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Posted by Wes von Papinešu on December 15, 1999 at 19:44:31:
CONTRA COSTA TIMES (San Francisco, California) 08 December 99 Reptile visitors enrapture Stanley students (Amy McCowan)
"Oh man! Gross! Cool!" These comments, mixed with nervous giggles, echoed throughout Stanley Middle School's auditorium last Tuesday.
A menagerie of reptiles lay placidly on tables and in cages, staring back with glassy black eyes : seeming to regard the seventh-grade students with similar remarks.
This is the 12th year that Dan Keeley has unloaded his van of critters at the Stanley campus. Keeley is the owner and operator of Reptile Ranch in Chico, which is home to about 60 reptiles. Many were adopted by Keeley, who rescues snakes, iguanas, alligators and other animals with scales. They are saved from homes where they posed as pets until the day came that they could no longer restrain their wild instincts.
"I mostly get snakes, boa constrictors especially, because they are the snakes that are sold in pet shops," he said. "I usually don't have rare animals. Rare reptiles are bought by collectors who have the right facilities for them, rather than families who buy snakes or iguanas for their kids for fun."
All of the animals are kept for the remainder of their lives, either on the ranch or traveling from school to school in the ranch's well-equipped van.
Keeley's everlasting goal is to teach students the basics about reptiles. "He will not come up to you and bite you just for the fun of it," Keeley explained as he walked around the room carrying a rattlesnake with the aid of a metal hook. "Remember, you are a lot bigger than he is, and he's much more afraid of you than you are of him."
Here in California, our neighbor is the Northern Pacific rattlesnake, a snake with the characteristic triangle-shaped head. The captive audience listened as Keeley put to rest any myths about these snakes and others that students have heard of or have seen in movies like "Anaconda." Useful tips were given about what to do in the event of coming face to face with a rattlesnake.
Turning to the 4-foot-long alligator lying on the table, Keeley informed the audience that he is an American alligator and can grow to be 1,000 pounds and 15 feet long.
When this alligator reaches its maximum size, he will have the strength and the ability to do as he pleases. In anticipation of that day, Keeley is teaching this alligator to follow commands: stop, go, turn, etc.
Common iguanas are the haughty lizards of the Reptile Ranch crew. While displaying his colorful cheeks and razor-like scales, the male iguana nodded his head whenever a person set foot within the invisible boundary line of his territory.
Keeley warned that these animals are well-protected: Their long tails have the strength to break a dog's leg, and their jaws are very strong.
Lydia was quietly waiting in a giant white box. Keeley pulled eight students from the audience and out she came : a 15-foot Burmese python from Asia. The eight students stood shoulder to shoulder, each bear-hugging this 160-pound snake.
Oohs and ahhs erupted from the audience as they watched their classmates carry a giant python. The train of kids then set Lydia down on two long tables put end to end.
"She was incredibly heavy, even though there were so many people holding her," said Daniel Philpot, one of those who held the python.
Every spectator was itching to reach out and touch the great snake. Each stroked the alligator on his back before moving on to Lydia.
"When we would pass the iguanas, they would shake their heads, which was a little intimidating," a beaming Kelsey Barclay said after her trip past the reptiles. "The alligator's back was really bumpy and hard, and there wasn't a smooth spot on him. The giant snake was cool to touch, and when you squeezed it, the muscles were rock hard!"
As the classes filed out of the auditorium, comments were now: "Cool! Wow! Can we do this again next year?"
The hands-on experience Reptile Ranch offered had been a welcome oasis in the average school day, giving students something new and exciting to tell their families about at the dinner table.