Main menu


What You Need to Know Before Giving a Turtle, Bearded Dragon or Alligator This Holiday Season

featured image

If you’re considering buying a reptile as a gift for a loved one this holiday season, be careful. This is what Nico Novelli advises the people he addresses through his educational programs.

“I strongly advise against giving someone an animal as a pet,” Novelli said. “You assume they want a little accountability.”

This responsibility includes the cost of feeding the animals, perhaps for decades, and arranging for their care if you go out of town. While it’s fairly easy to find a dog or cat sitter, “most places don’t welcome reptiles,” Novelli said.

The owner of Canyon Critters, a shelter based at his home in Boulder County, knows a lot about reptile care. He currently cares for seven turtles – which can weigh over 120 pounds each – 12 pythons, two caimans (a type of alligator) and many other creatures like lizards and turtles.

Many of the animals he cares for are injured, which means he has a high vet bill every year. He tries to give some up for adoption, but he knows that many animals, especially those with additional needs, will be with him for life.

20221209-REPTILE-RESCUERachel Estabrook/CPR News
This spectacled caiman, a type of alligator, is called Carmen. She is about five and a half feet tall. At this point, Nico Novelli, the owner of Canyon Critters Refuge, can pet her without getting bitten, having been raising her for over a dozen years.

This year, Novelli received over a hundred calls from people who realized they couldn’t care for their reptiles and wanted to donate them. Some of these animals have been added to families during the pandemic When buying small pets became even more popular.

Novelli has not been able to accommodate all of these animals, and there are only a handful of locations capable of retrieving unwanted reptiles.

But there are dozens of stores that sell them, including large pet chains and reptile shops. Novelli thinks that should change.

“The fact that they sell them in pet stores is, in my opinion, completely inappropriate,” he said.

He is particularly opposed to pet stores that sell large snakes and alligators.

20221209-REPTILE-RESCUERachel Estabrook/CPR News
Nico Novelli of Canyon Critters maintains the list he maintains in 2022 of animals he has been asked to save from owners who can no longer care for them.

“It’s very unfortunate that people do little or no research before getting these animals,” he said.

He acquired one of the two rescue caimans a few weeks ago from someone he says recently purchased it from a chain store in Metro Denver. Although the alligator is small now, it could grow to over five feet in length. It stings a lot. Even the smaller ones have very sharp teeth and can cause quite a bit of damage,” he said.

Novelli spoke with Colorado Matters lead host Ryan Warner about what else Coloradans should know before bringing a reptile into their home. These are edited excerpts from their interview.

Ryan Warner: What don’t people expect from caring for these animals at home?

Nico Novelli: The most common lizard is a bearded dragon. They are a very popular pet as they are very social and many celebrities have posted photos with their bearded dragons. They are great pets, but a lot of people when they buy them don’t realize that they will live into their late teens, twenties, and they cost around $80 or $90. to take care of it properly per month. .

Also, if you are going on vacation for the holidays and you have a cat or dog, you can house them in various places. If you have something like a bearded dragon, there aren’t many places that go to the board, and ask your neighbor kid to come over and pour some dog food into a bowl and l taking for a walk is one thing. Getting them to make a fresh salad with fruits and vegetables and put live crickets in the cage, changing the water every day, is a bit more of a business, and it’s not easy to find someone.

Many people realize that if it’s a problem during this holiday, it will continue to be a problem during the next holiday. So they just say, “It’s not for our lifestyle.”

20221209-REPTILE-RESCUERachel Estabrook/CPR News
Nico Novelli holds a young caiman, a type of alligator, which he rescued in November 2022 from a family in Lakewood, Colorado. Even at this age, Novelli said their teeth were quite sharp and they were eager to bite.

What do you do with the animals you house?

I try to find homes for them. Unfortunately, my rescue request rate is more than 10 times what I get for approval requests. And often when people call me to adopt, once I’ve gone through the real facts of what it takes to care for these animals, a lot of people change their minds.

I don’t think I’ve ever been to a Boy Scout meeting where at least one, if not more than one, parent doesn’t come up to me afterwards and thank me for telling them the truth. They say, “You just saved me from making a big mistake.” Because they didn’t realize they were going to take care of an animal that they had to take care of for 20 years and $90 a month.

What do people do with these animals if they realize they can’t take care of them and there’s nowhere for the reptiles to go?

They release them. There was someone that released his caiman alligator that year at Sloan’s Lake in Denver. I ask the parks and wildlife officials to find things on the trails and bring them to me. People send me pictures: “I saw this on the trail. What is that? I’ve never seen one in Colorado. I tell them: it’s a bearded dragon, it’s a desert lizard from Australia, it shouldn’t be in the wild.

I talk about it regularly in my educational programs because people don’t realize that letting your pet loose is animal abandonment, animal cruelty and animal neglect. But if it’s not from Colorado, it’s also an invasive species.

20221209-REPTILE-RESCUERachel Estabrook/CPR News
Nico Novelli of Canyon Critters Rescue says bearded dragons are popular pets these days, but many people who buy them don’t realize they’ll live into their late teens or early twenties. , and can cost $80 or $90 a month to take care of properly.

How did you get into animal rescue?

I’ve had reptiles all my life. My mother and my grandmother had snakes before me.

Professionally, I started to train animals for the cinema. The rescue started when I worked for animal control in Los Angeles County. The shelter where I worked, when we welcomed reptiles, we kept them between 5 and 10 days and then they were euthanized. So I started bringing them home, and then it quickly became a zoo. And then I launched Canyon Critters and my programs to fund the rescue.

I am 100% self-funded, thanks to my educational programs and my evenings. I have another company, my maintenance company, and that’s how I pay my bills. In fact, since COVID, I have to spend more and more money from my other business to take care of animals.

Why do you continue to do so, at financial loss?

It’s early in the morning: I get up first thing in the morning to make salads. It takes me an hour or an hour and a half to make salads for everyone. I go downstairs, distribute salads, pick up old food, pick up all the messes made during the night. I do it, quite frankly, because of my passion for animals and the fact that it’s not their fault that people are irresponsible.

20221209-REPTILE-RESCUERachel Estabrook/CPR News
A turtle named Butthead, for its destructive nature, at the Canyon Critters Reptile Rescue in Boulder County, Colorado.