After his dog died when he was a child, Tyler Messina wanted a new pet but it was too soon for another dog. He saw a python at a pet store.
“I fell in love with it and I’ve wanted one ever since then,” he said.
His dad’s friend had a corn snake that needed someone to care for it, so that became his first pet reptile. “Since that day I’ve had some kind of snake with me at all times.”
He worked at reptile zoos and stores while living in California, where he became involved with a group that rescued reptiles. “That’s been my mission ever since,” Messina said. “I’ve seen a lot of reptiles that need homes — that need somewhere to be.”
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Messina said reptiles are very misunderstood. He realized through hands-on education he could be a champion for a wonderfully diverse and successful group of animals. He created an organization in 2010 to both rescue reptiles and educate people in a fun atmosphere.
Reptile Adventures rescues about 100 reptiles a year, Messina said. The majority of calls involve pet-store reptiles. “We get a lot of water turtles, leopard geckos, bearded dragons, ball pythons — that kind of thing,” Messina said. They harbor a growing number of animals at their headquarters in Nampa, where he and a staff of six volunteers care for them and help with presentations.
He said in the Treasure Valley they take in misfit, invasive species like the red-eared slider, a water turtle that eats other native turtles out of house and home.
The Reptile Adventures team acquired a rhinoceros iguana from a man in eastern Idaho whose wife told him he needed to lose the lizard before getting a fish tank. A threatened species, the rhino iguana is now part of the family in Nampa.
Rescues come in all shapes and sizes. Messina said his team was called to retrieve a corn snake in the airbag of a car. “I get calls for all kinds of stuff,” Messina said with a laugh.
So what should you do if you find a reptile where it’s not suppose to be? Messina says the first thing is to leave it alone. “A lot of times if you catch something in the wild, you can’t legally release it back into the wild,” he said. If you handle a reptile, it’s likely you transferred bacteria, and if released back into the wild that bacteria might infect other animals.
“If you do see something in the wild, call us (Reptile Adventures), or Idaho Fish and Game or animal control, depending on the animal,” Messina said. “Let someone who knows how to handle the animal properly take care of it rather than just stressing it even more.”
“If you see a turtle on the road, you can just push them off to the side with your foot,” Messina said. He added a reminder that we do have snapping turtles in Idaho — so use caution. “But push them off the road so a car won’t use the turtle like a speed bump,” he said.
Messina says it’s best to just leave snakes and other reptiles alone. “They serve their purpose in the ecosystem and we need them to stick around,” he said. Rattlesnakes might be scary, but they are much more afraid of you.
“They aren’t aggressive unless cornered,” Messina said. “Just stomp your feet—they feel the vibration of a larger animal and will usually go hide.”
Starting Oct. 1, Reptile Adventures will be opening its menagerie of animals to the public at 2930 Port St. in Nampa. For more information, email email@example.com.