Jun 24, 2008 Ami Olson Uncategorized
When Dante, the 14 foot long, 80 pound Burmese P ython was found on Wednesday after two days of freedom, he was exactly where Maxman Reptile Rescue’s Diana Sleiertin had predicted he would be: lying in the muck of the canal, about 50 yards behind her house on the outskirts of Jordan.
Dante’s cage, along with four other reptile enclosures located in Sleiertin’s lawn, had been vandalized on Monday, the security straps sliced and gates propped open. Dante slithered out, and a young iguana recovering from near-starvation also escaped.
The iguana has not been found; Sleiertin does not expect it to survive.
Terror level: elevated
Sleiertin said when she arrived home Monday and found the damaged cages, she immediately contacted state police.
Then, she had to break the news to her neighbors.
I’ve always been very open with my neighbors about what animals I have here, Sleiertin said.
Regardless, she said she was not surprised by people’s negative reactions, but she had not expected so many positive and supportive comments, or the number of phone calls she received, offers of help, sometimes from strangers.
Frequenting forums and message boards online, Sleiertin read posts from terrified residents who claimed it was no longer safe to leave children outside unattended by the canal – so long as there was a p ython on the loose.
Though comments like these are frustrating, Sleiertin has come to expect them.
Most people don’t see them (reptiles) as animals, she said.
But how much danger were neighbors – and their pets – really in while Dante was on the lam?
Sleiertin reminds those unfamiliar with pythons that reptiles are cold blooded, and being unable to raise their body temperatures in the relatively cold environment, Dante was very disinclined to travel long distances or expend energy trying to catch prey.
When he was found Wednesday by a 12-year-old neighbor and his dog, the snake had not eaten since his escape.
Sleiertin said when she arrived at the neighbors’ to retrieve Dante, she found the temporary captors taking turns standing beside the p ython, having their pictures taken.
Dante, who has been at Maxman for more than two years, was accepted by the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo and will be moving there permanently in a few months.
This is not an animal we intended to keep, Sleiertin said of the p ython. She and Maxman volunteers worked for two years to locate a facility willing and able to rehome Dante permanently. The snake came to Maxman after he was confiscated by the Department of Conservation from a private owner in the southern tier.
Sleiertin said Dante, who is 10 to 12 years old now, could live up to 20 years in captivity and grow to be 20 feet long and weigh a couple hundred pounds.
Sleiertin said she believes the vandalism did not involve animal rights activists, and that it was a personal attack. The escape of Speedy, an African spurred tortoise, from his enclosure the week prior to Dante’s adventure may also have been the work of a vandal, Sleiertin believes.
As a result of the activity, an electrical fence and video surveillance will be installed on the Maxman property, and she will no longer leave animals in outdoor enclosures when she is not on the property.
Maxman currently houses 35 non-venomous reptiles, many of which are rescued or relinquished by owners unable or unwilling to care for them properly. The rescue also provides educational programs for schools, libraries, birthday parties and other organizations, in addition to the Junior Volunteer program.
The program allows youths as young as eight to work with and learn about reptiles; many of the junior volunteers participated in the Jordan Parade of Bands on Memorial Day, introducing spectators to various reptiles.
Sleiertin said, beyond the violated sense of security the vandalism instilled, her greatest disappointment was the negative light the incident cast on all of the positive things the rescue provides.
This discredits the good we’ve been doing, Sleiertin said.
Dante’s next public appearance is slated for Jordan’s Erie Canal Celebration, July 12.