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CA Press:Reptiles find friend in 5-year-old boy

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Posted by desiree on December 04, 2002 at 23:44:58:

Reptiles find friend in 5-year-old boy
CORONA: Ian Wilgus organized a fundraiser to help house the endangered tuatara.



CORONA - Playing with a pile of brightly colored rubber snakes, Ian Wilgus, 5, pulls out one after the other and holds it in mid-air.

"This is Lampropeltis getulus californiae," recites Ian of Corona. "That's the Latin name for California king snake. Those are my favorite. And this is another one I like," Ian said as he picks up a spotted green snake known as the green anaconda. "Eunectes murinus," he adds.

His love for snakes, and all reptiles, has taken Ian and the rest of his family -- father, Mike; mother, Karen; and younger brother, Ryan -- to zoos all over Southern California. During one visit to the San Diego Zoo they learned of a rare and endangered reptile, the tuatara.

After finding that the zoo was raising money to build a facility for the lizardlike creature, Ian asked his family to help him bake and sell chocolate chip cookies to neighbors and friends to help out.

Ian and his family recently presented the zoo with a check for $225 that he'd raised.

"I wanted to help the zoo breed the tuatara since they're endangered," he said.

Greg Vojtko/The Press-Enterprise
Ian Wilgus, 5, plays with Job, his pet Southern pine snake, at his Corona home. Ian recently baked cookies and sold them to raise funds for the San Diego Zoo and its tuatara, a rare endangered reptile.

Donal Boyer, curator of the San Diego Zoo's reptile department, was surprised at Ian's determination to help the animal.

"I see quite a few young kids that are interested in reptiles, but most of those kids don't do a fundraiser," he said.

Ian's determination was no surprise to his mother. She said she's seen his interest grow over the years.

"He liked dinosaurs when he was 2 and it evolved into reptiles," she said. "I knew it was serious when I would take him to Knott's Berry Farm and he wouldn't want to go on any rides because he wanted to stay in the nature exhibit they have there."

Ian's love for cold-blooded animals is so great that he memorizes their Latin names, watches nature documentaries repeatedly and keeps his eyes glued to the pages of reptile books.

Ian Wilgus, center, holds an endangered tuatara with Donal Boyer, curator of the San Diego Zoo's reptile department, left, and senior herpetologist Brett Baldwin.

The talkative boy refers to his hobby as a "career" and envisions himself as a snake educator. He and his mother have gone to preschools and elementary schools, bringing along posters with reptile information and at least one of the three live snakes they keep in their home.

"I don't want people to be afraid of snakes, because they are cool," he said.

His plan to change people's minds about the slinky creatures has even worked at home. Ian's father said he was not a fan of the reptile.

"I don't like snakes," he said. "But it's something he's interested in, so I just have to deal with it. I've even ended up holding the snakes a couple times, but that's only if I have to."

Ian said he wants to help everyone get over their snake fears. His dream is to work someday with reptiles at the San Diego Zoo.

"Herpetologists are my heroes," he said. "I want to work at the zoo in the day, drive to schools in the afternoons to do reptile presentations, and in the mornings go snake-hunting."

His mother said Ian is on his way to fulfilling that goal, stocking up on his hunting supplies.

"He's already asked Santa for a snake stick for Christmas," she said.

Reach Nicole Buzzard at (909) 893-2107 or

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