Kevin Stuart

by Festival Nomad Correspondent, Kevin Stuart

It’s been said that familiarity breeds contempt. However, in the case of some animals, it seems unfamiliarity with them has led many of us to fear or dislike them.

Several kinds of reptiles fall into this category given that they are often thought of as creepy, dangerous, or just downright nasty.  The Indian River Reptile Zoo near Peterborough is trying to change these perceptions. As Canada’s only accredited reptile zoo and sanctuary, it provides a home for wayward creatures as well as a place where we can go to get up close and personal in a safe setting.

It should be noted that Indian River Reptile Zoo is a registered charity. At present, all proceeds are going towards rescuing two reptiles and building new crocodile ponds for their newly adopted salt water crocodiles. Many of the zoo’s inhabitants were given up house pets or confiscated from criminal rings. 

The first leg of the tour was the indoor exhibits featuring some familiar species of snakes and alligators. As well, one will also discover other reptiles that are not native to this part of the world. Strange as it may seem to some, many people had once taken these creatures into their homes from young, forgetting that they don’t stay little and cute.

By hearing what they require for survival, we learned how vulnerable many of these creatures are when not allowed their space. Indian River Reptile Zoo has limited space but we were told they will find a place for any reptile if the only other option is euthanasia.

We viewed the various snakes and turtles in the indoor part and also saw one of the rescued  crocodiles who seemed quite comfortable resting on the bottom and, as the photo shows, looking rather comfortable. We learned they can stay under for lengthy periods but we were able to see him surface as well.

This is also the place that can save someone’s life since they have anti-venom for any species of snake bite.

We were told the hospitals often call on Indian River Reptile Zoo since they can’t stock all the different types. We saw it all stored for easy access should the need arise.

Once we stepped outside, at times it felt like stepping way back in time as we had face to face encounters with several inhabitants of a prehistoric earth.  From winged to the mighty triceratops, they will fascinate, if not scare many visitors.  Of course, some of us were amused at the one who sprayed water on unsuspecting passers by. On a warm day, it actually was welcome.

To help provide further perspective on relative size, place your foot inside a footprint or stand next to a single dinosaur thigh bone.  These creatures would have been far from ideal house pets.

There is also a chance to see some of the reptiles up close and personal at certain times of the day. The zoo staff are careful to emphasize exercising both caution and kindness when encountering these animals in an effort to reduce the number of abandoned pets. We heard a few stories behind a tortoise, alligator and the highlight for many – a Burmese python. 


This was an opportunity for that familiarity I mentioned earlier. If you’ve never touched a snake before you might expect it to be slimy and cold. In fact it was quite dry and smooth. One thing they mention that some zoos do erroneously is allow snakes to be wrapped around some of the visitors’ necks or body for dramatic pictures.

This is something the staff at Indian River Reptile Zoo are careful to point out they will not allow since snakes, like any animal, will act instinctively regardless of their surroundings.  The children that get to hold the snake put their arms out while the zookeepers support its head and tail area for better control. 

One more way visitors can get hands-on is with the outside archaeological digs. Finding fossils by digging and dusting helps give children an experience in the joy of discovery.  From bones to toys, one never knows what can be uncovered. It’s not like the average sandbox!

Our thanks once more to the knowledgeable and helpful staff who helped us to become more familiar with these reptiles and maybe just see them a bit differently than before. We also understood how Indian River Reptile Zoo differs from many roadside zoos in how they provide the best enclosures, dietary and other essential needs for its inhabitants.  Also worth repeating,  they can help save lives when it becomes necessary.

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