Christina Fox, Corps of Engineers Student Ranger at Tygart Lake, rescues animals and often uses the animals in her care in interpretive programs to educate the public.
One of her most unusual rescues is an alligator that goes by the name "Herbert." Several years ago, when Herbert was much smaller, he was purchased from a retail pet store.
Like many people who see baby alligators as cute helpless little creatures, Herbert's new owners had no idea what the care of such an animal involved.
After living for several months in their home, Herbert escaped his enclosure and spent two stress-filled weeks roaming through the walls of their home. When he was finally located, one of the residents of the home decided (to ensure a future of stress-free restful nights) that Herbert had to go.
Herbert's fate then fell into the hands of the local animal control department. Like most animal control facilities, they were not prepared to provide proper care required for this wayward alligator that desperately needed a home. The staff at the animal control department did the next best thing and contacted Fox, one of the specialists at West Virginia Snakes' wildlife education group and turned him over to her.
Fox, who has spent much of her life handling and rehabilitating wild and exotic animals, had no trouble ensuring a smooth transition for Herbert into his new adopted home. Fox, a junior at West Virginia University studying wildlife and fisheries, has a firm understanding and determination for protecting the natural environment. She has seen firsthand the damage that unwanted exotic and domestic animals can have when they are released into the outdoors.
This is a very common story for many exotic reptiles. The exotic pet trade floods the market with these animals while neglecting to fully inform the consumer of what will be required to care for them. Exotic reptiles, such as alligators, have very limited options when they outgrow their welcome in a home. Many zoos cannot afford the costs of quarantine and care for the overabundance of these unwanted reptiles, which leads to the euthanizing of many. Fox, through educational programs, relocation, and other forms of hands-on involvement, is doing her best to combat this problem.
Herbert, along with many other rescued reptiles and the staff of West Virginia Snakes, have traveled around the state teaching the importance of responsible ownership of exotic animals. They have taught countless people to educate themselves before purchasing any animal they are not familiar with the care of. Although they are amazing creatures, the fact that large reptiles such as alligators and snakes do not make good pets is one of the primary lessons Fox coveys. She also encourages people to be more mindful of the importance of the conservation of all animals in the wild.
(Photo by Mira Hess, Tygart Lake)