Giving a home to reptiles bearing all sorts of scars
Buy this photo » Andy Brown holding a corn snake damaged after being slammed in a drawer. The snake is now known as Nessie
THE worst thing Andy Browne has seen at Swindon Reptile Rescue?
It’s a difficult question with so many cases to choose from, but he settles on the three-year-old corn snake brought in a few months ago.
Now thriving and not in pain, its body is a mass of bumps, twists, scars and kinks.
“It had been kept in a bedside cabinet drawer – the sort of thing you’d keep your pants and socks in. No heat apart from the heat of the room and no light apart from when the drawer was opened.”
The drawer was opened every fortnight or so when the owner tossed in a dead mouse for the creature to eat.
“On occasions the snake would come up looking for food and light and the guy would think it was going to attack him, so he’d slam the drawer on it. When it was brought to us it had 19 breaks in its spine.”
The owner was not some sadist but a teenage boy who’d been given the creature as a present by his father on the understanding that he would look after it. The father didn’t discover what had happened to the snake until the son went off to university.
Horrified, he took it to Andy. The animal is guaranteed care for life, and Andy takes it with him on community outreach visits as a living illustration of why nobody should be casual about owning an exotic pet.
The corn snake is the worst thing he’s seen, but there have been plenty of other contenders. There was the lizard brought to him looking like a strip of dried-up black leather after a full year of neglect, and there was the snake burned to the bone when the bright spark it belonged to attempted to take off scraps of shed skin with a blowlamp.
There were the four Chinese water dragons left by their owner with his wife after the marriage ended.
“Because they were the last thing she had that had been his, she kept them for sentimental reasons.” Unfortunately the woman had no idea how to look after them, and by the time she brought them to Andy they were such a mass of mouth rot, fractures and dislocations that two had to be euthanised on the spot.
Many animals find their way to Andy because their owners realise they’ve taken on too much, or else can’t afford a sudden vet’s bill. Others are found and brought in by the public or by various animal welfare groups.
At the last count there were 349, not including arachnids and the odd scolopendra – giant centipedes which occasionally hitch a lift from exotic places in an unsuspecting soldier’s luggage.
Farm worker Andy is single – something he reveals with a wry chuckle and a glance toward his house in Highworth, where most of the walls are lined with vivaria.
Swindon Reptile Rescue is helped by donations and a team of about 20 volunteers.
Andy’s interest in reptiles began early.
“I was four years old. My father produced two tortoises, one for myself and one for my younger sister.
“We kept them for three years and every year they’d be put into a cardboard box with straw to hibernate for the winter.
“In the third season we had a warm week in February or at the beginning of March...”
Sadly, this meant they woke early and died – a fate shared by many British tortoises in those days – but a fascination for reptiles had been kindled in the boy.
At 14 he successfully hatched a couple of dozen grass snakes from eggs found in a manure pile, later releasing them back into the wild. As the years passed he became known as a ‘go-to’ person for reptile knowledge, and the seeds of Swindon Reptile Rescue were sown.
Andy welcomes inquiries from potential rehomers, but they must satisfy him that they know what they’re doing or are willing to learn. His vetting process includes home visits and an assessment of a person’s knowledge.
His advice to interested novices? “Go and do some research about the animals’ care requirements. Google the animal and there’ll be care sheets. Not all of them will be completely accurate, so check out maybe 20 and find the mean.
“Then come and talk to someone like myself.”
Andy would like to see Swindon Reptile Rescue become a charity, although he must navigate a series of strict financial and other conditions if that is to happen.
In the meantime, he welcomes inquiries from potential donors, rehomers, volunteers and anybody else who can help his work.
Further information can be found at www.swindonreptilerescue.com and on 01793 766844.
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