Kids bask in close critter contact

Reptile visit caps annual day of counting local wildlife

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

Published:

 

It didn’t take long for the “oohs” and “aahs” to start. The instant the first lizard came out of its container, dozens of children were hooked.

Steve Lattanzi is used to it. He’s seen just about every possible reaction to his Steve’s Creature Feature Reptile Zoo.

“From cheers to people fainting,” Lattanzi said.

Lattanzi brought the show back to Vancouver’s Water Resource Education Center on Saturday. After many families spent the morning surveying local wildlife during the center’s annual “Critter Count,” Lattanzi offered an up-close look at some specimens you won’t find anywhere near Clark County.

First up: An argus monitor lizard. Lattanzi didn’t mince words in describing the abilities of this creature, a relative of the Komodo dragon.

“She’s equipped to kill,” Lattanzi said of the monitor. “Don’t let those big, beautiful brown eyes fool you.”

The snakes in Lattanzi’s lineup didn’t need his help getting the crowd’s attention. As the experienced handler went to move his large, powerful Gaboon viper, the snake let out an agitated hiss. The group of youngsters perched on the floor in front of it scooted backward.

Audience members knew Lattanzi’s next snake even before they saw it. From the inside of an empty cereal box came an unmistakable rattle -- it was a western diamondback.

Lattanzi appeared in control of each specimen as he introduced them, one by one. But he knows better than to get too comfortable around them.

“One thing I can tell you about snakes is, they’re unpredictable,” he said. “As soon as you think you’ve got them figured out, they teach you otherwise.”

Two-year-old Abigail Wilson watched much of Lattanzi’s presentation clutching a toy lizard of her own. Her sister Andee, 7, didn’t pick one of show’s most dangerous creatures as her favorite. She picked one of its smallest: the Tokay gecko, which Lattanzi had sticking to the walls early in his presentation.

The girls’ mother, Sarah Wilson of Vancouver, was happy to see her little ones interested.

“It’s nice that the community offers educational, hands-on experience for our kids,” she said. “It’s nice to have something like this.”

Lattanzi was careful to caution kids who might have gotten any ideas for their own homes. Just because animals are fun to look at and handle, he said, doesn’t mean they make good pets.

That’s a message the water resource center -- and likely parents -- appreciated.

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro; eric.florip@columbian.com.