Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Walk on the wild side

Exotic pets thrive far from home

Express Staff Writer

Lily the iguana might look exotic, but she’s a native—an imported one, anyway. Shipped via Delta from a Colorado shelter, Lily now lives in Bellevue and stays warm by sunbathing indoors and using ultraviolet lights.
Express photo by Roland Lane

Reptiles are not known for their cuddly behavior, but a 14-year-old green iguana named Lily in Bellevue breaks the mold.
    “Lily knows me and loves to be petted. She closes her eyes when I do,” said 31-year-old Mandi Patterson. “She’s not just a cold-blooded reptile that does not know her owners. My dog protects my iguana. They get along great and love one another.”
    Patterson has kept iguanas since she was 18, but researched widely before adopting Lily four years ago from the Colorado Reptile Humane Society at a cost of $200, flying her to town on Delta Airlines.
    “Don’t adopt an iguana unless you know what you’re getting into,” she advised.
    Lily has to be kept at warm temperature and under ultraviolet lights or else her bone density will decrease. She loves the sunlight and will crawl down off the shelves and into the sunlight when it’s sunny out. After all, she was born for the tropics.
    Lily is strictly vegetarian, living mostly on fruits and vegetables. She does her duty on a tray with newspapers, like a cat, or in the bathtub.
    Lily is not the only cold-blooded reptile to have made a home in the sometimes frigid Wood River Valley. Houdini, a 12-foot long Burmese python, has lived north of Ketchum for 23 years. He became world famous a few years ago after swallowing a queen-sized electric heating blanket, and surviving the ordeal.
    “At least he unplugged it first,” said his owner, veteran ski instructor Carl Beznoska.
    The story of Houdini’s unhappy meal first appeared in the Idaho Mountain Express and then went viral. Beznoska fielded calls from California; Mumbai, India; and the BBC News in London.
    “It was a hectic time. One day I had three TV crews here at once, including Good Morning America,” he said.
    Houdini has also made special guest appearances at the Montessori School in Ketchum, where he outweighed most of the students.
    Beznoska first kept snakes while cutting ironwood for railroad ties in the Australian outback as a teenager. He bought Houdini in 1990 from a student in Boise who could no longer care for him. Today Houdini lives in a big terrarium with a heated floor and water.

Rio the Brazilian Caique parrot hangs out with his buddy, 6-year-old Skylar Runswick. Rio cannot imitate human speech, but does squawk to get attention. Express photo by Willy Cook

    “When he comes out, usually when he’s hungry, he heads for my bedroom. The most he will do is clear off some shelves. He’s very unaggressive. You can drag him around like a fire hose.”    
    Beznoska’s two German shepherd dogs get along fine with Houdini, sometimes getting nose to nose.
    “It’s a strange kind of relationship they have. Sometimes stretched out in the same room together,” he said.
    Fortunately, Houdini only eats rabbits, one each month.
    “When he’s hungry it only takes abut two seconds,” Beznoska said.
    A Brazilian Caique parrot that can also normally be found in warmer climes found its way to the valley. “Rio” has lived in the Heatherlands north of Hailey for three years, bringing joy and antics to the home of Deida Runswick.
    “She’s always the life of the party,” Runswick said. “She lays on her back, cuddles, kisses and loves everyone she meets. We also have three dogs. She likes all of them.”
    Rio, 4, belongs to a species that does not learn to mimic human speech, but she will squawk when she’s being ignored. She was brought to the Wood River Valley from a bird sanctuary in Santa Barbara, Calif.
    Runswick and her husband pulled one of Rio’s green, orange and white feathers in order to have her sex determined by DNA testing. Rio’s wings are clipped every month or two to keep her from flying into something and getting hurt.
    Rio eats pellet foods and pasta and chicken and eggs, and a lot of fresh food, but no avocados, which can poison her. Runswick had many birds while growing up in the Wood River Valley, learning not to feed them too much bird seed, which can cause heart disease.
    “She’s a naughty bird,” she said. “She will pick buttons off things, pick at cell phones, knock over wine glasses and drink your beer.”
    Rio loves water and takes showers with her family members, including 6-year-old Skylar Runswick, who raises money for bird sanctuaries and dolphin rescue programs.
    “If my daughter could have a dolphin in the backyard, she would have everything,” Runswick said.

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