At reptile sanctuary, Florida natives dwell

Daniel Marchand, who runs the Phoenix Herpetological Society’s Reptile Sanctuary, carries an alligator that had been raised as a pet, including being house-broken.

BRIAN W. KRATZER/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, January 6, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 5, 2007 at 11:45 p.m.

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. — After traveling for four days and more than 2,000 miles, we finally found the real Gator Nation.

Or at least the real gators.

The final stop on our road trip before we reached the media hotel in Scottsdale was the Phoenix Herpetological Society's Reptile Sanctuary. Daniel Marchand keeps 480 reptiles in a sanctuary beside his Scottsdale home, including 51 alligators taken from illegal breeding operations and drug dealers and other crazies who thought they'd be cool pets.

The Phoenix area's Desert Gator Club has adopted the society as its charity of choice. At one fundraiser, the club collected 1,000 pounds of chicken and other food for the sanctuary.

One of the sanctuary's gators, named Tuesday, has become the club mascot. Tuesday greeted the University of Florida football team at the Phoenix airport and will be brought to events held in the lead-up the national championship game. While some UF players were reportedly a little scared of Tuesday, they had nothing to fear. The 6-foot gator is a real softie — pet her and she'll raise her head and close her eyes like a dog.

A woman raised Tuesday as a pet, paper training the reptile and letting it sleep with her. But she eventually found having a gator stomping around the house was hard on the Hummel collection, so she gave it to an illegal breeding operation.

In 2005, an Arizona highway patrol officer stopped the man allegedly behind the operation because he was driving a pickup pulling a trailer without functioning lights. The officer looked into the trailer and found 32 alligators inside.

The sanctuary provides a home for many reptiles seized by law enforcement that can no longer survive in the wild. Marchand said cops sometimes find gators and other dangerous reptiles when they bust drug dealers and other unsavory characters.

Gila monsters are another favorite, and can be found in the Arizona desert. The lizard's venom has been found to have a possible benefit in helping manage diabetes, so researchers are studying the sanctuary's collection.

Poachers also take rattlesnakes, of which the state has more than a dozen species. One 21-year-old man who had collected diamondbacks in the desert was later bit by one of them, which killed him. The sanctuary took the snake.

The animals speak to the desert's brutal conditions. If the heat doesn't kill you, deadly snakes, spiders and scorpions will.

It makes you wonder what we're doing covering the desert with homes. These animals developed ways to survive the conditions. People need to drain the Colorado River to live comfortably in their subdivisions.

Such development is killing off the Gila monster, which is listed as a protected species in Arizona. Marchand said he has mixed feelings about the sprawl of Scottsdale, which helps his cabinet-making business but is eating away at the desert that inspired his love of reptiles.

As we drove through Scottsdale, we saw signs for new developments selling homes for more than $1 million. The mountains around the area are breathtaking and this undoubtedly would be a cool place to live, but I wonder whether we're losing some amazing landscape in exchange for more monotonous sprawl.

Maybe we're not so far from Florida after all.

Nathan Crabbe can be reached at

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