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CT PRess: Exotic animals find a home in Manchester

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Posted by: W von Papinešu at Sun Jan 2 22:32:18 2005  [ Report Abuse ] [ Email Message ] [ Show All Posts by W von Papinešu ]  
   

JOURNAL INQUIRER (Manchester, Connecticut) 31 December 04 Exotic animals find a home in Manchester (Luke Foster)
Manchester: Rusty and Winslow Gilman love caring for reptiles and amphibians.
The nearly 100 creatures who share the Gilmans' apartment are proof of that.
The apartment is filled with anacondas, pythons, monitor lizards, iguanas, tree frogs, tortoises, and others.
Tarantulas and several types of fish, which are used when the husband-and-wife team does educational shows at schools, join the reptiles in the home.
Their exotic housemates led the Gilmans to be threatened with eviction from their Vernon apartment, and the couple moved to Manchester this year.
The Gilmans say they were ready to move anyway, before the well-publicized dispute, and note they were never evicted or fined.
Now, the Gilmans have permission to run the shelter written into their lease, and say they looked up the town's zoning laws about keeping animals before setting up to make sure they were in compliance with all local statutes.
The town's zoning enforcement officer could not be reached for comment.
A number of the animals come from people who had them as pets but soon found they could not care for them. Many are iguanas, which surprise their buyers by growing bigger than expected.
The heaviest animal in the house is a Burmese python, which weighs 250 pounds.
Winslow Gilman says ball pythons are good as pets; other varieties, like the Burmese python, are not. Still, he says, both get sold at pet stores.
While ball and Burmese pythons start off the same size, the Burmese ones can grow as large as 27 feet and can weigh as much as 300 pounds. They have been known to eat cats and dogs, he says.
Some animals -- such as one turtle with pellet gun wounds and another missing its front legs -- are being treated for their injuries.
A large number have been rescued from the Long Island Reptile Museum over the past year. The Gilmans say the animals there were mistreated.
For example, one large water monitor lizard needs daily treatment because it was terribly underfed and has mouth rot, Winslow Gilman says. It was housed with Nile monitors, he says, which are much more aggressive.
Pointing to some white spots on the monitor lizard, Winslow Gilman shows where the Niles likely attacked it whenever it attempted to get food.
"If the animals had been cared for properly it would've been really nice," Rusty Gilman says.
One anaconda from Long Island could not be treated and was put to sleep, which Winslow Gilman says was a shame as it would have been an ideal animal for anyone looking to start a museum.
The couple takes in one or two animals a week on average, and sometimes it gets so crowded people need to be referred elsewhere. The Humane Society and zoos have referred people to the Gilmans.
All animals are taken to the veterinarian and quarantined when they arrive.
Most of the animals are up for adoption, save those the Gilmans keep for educational purposes and those that are family favorites.
Still, the couple does a very thorough screening for any potential adoptions, Rusty Gilman says.
Because reptiles are cold-blooded, the temperature in the apartment is always at least 74 degrees, with some habitats as high as 80 degrees or more.
But that means the electric bills get very high -- up to $300 in the winter.
Winslow Gilman recommends using a ceramic heater lamp, hung at the top of a habitat and aimed at a slate rock. Such lamps are safer than heating rocks or pads, which can short out and burn or even kill the reptiles, he said.
Food and supplies for the reptiles -- whether they eat meat, insects, or plants -- are purchased from suppliers or sometimes donated to the shelter.
In addition to caring for the reptiles at home, the two go around to schools to teach classes about their cold-blooded friends.
Even their son, Griffin, 5, helps out during the classes sometimes, teaching whole classrooms the proper way to hold a snake, Rusty Gilman says.
The Gilmans want to work with the Connecticut Children's Science Museum in West Hartford as it builds a new facility in Hartford to possibly set up a children's museum and reptile rehabilitation center for local species.
For example, the black rat snake was brought to the area back when it was mostly farmland so it would eat the rats that threatened the crops, Winslow Gilman says. Now, however, the farmland is disappearing, so the snake is now endangered.
Both consider their animal care a full-time job, although Rusty also works for the Connecticut Humane Society.
"It's a lifestyle, it's not 9 to 5," Rusty Gilman says. "We wouldn't have it any other way."
Exotic animals find a home in Manchester


   

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