UCAR Communications


staff notes monthly

July/August 2003

Ann-Elizabeth's iggies

Ann-Elizabeth Nash is stepping down from her position as administrator in the Joint Office for Science Support this summer and devoting more time to Colorado Reptile Rescue, an organization she founded. She has been with UCAR for more than eight years. During the latter part of her tenure, she became fascinated with reptiles. This is her story.

Caring for domestic pets is part of the daily routine for many of us, but Ann-Elizabeth Nash has taken this task to a whole new level. She makes sure each morning to dish out food and water and lay down fresh newspaper—no easy task when you’re taking care of more than 80 iguanas and other assorted reptiles.

One might wonder why Ann-Elizabeth and her husband, Jonathan Scupin, have chosen to allow so many scaly creatures to take over nearly 900 square feet of their 1,850 square-foot home. The way Ann-Elizabeth sees it, “There are rewards from this apparent insanity. This is really the greatest thing that has happened to me.”

Only five years ago, a friend went on vacation and asked Ann-Elizabeth to care for a pet iguana while she was gone. Ann-Elizabeth became intrigued with the species right away—“It was definitely the neatest animal I’d ever been around”—so she began reading everything she could find on the subject.

In her research, Ann-Elizabeth learned, to her dismay, that nearly 99% of all iguanas purchased in pet stores are eventually abandoned by their owners or die in captivity within 2 years—although they may live as long as 15 to 20 years in the wild. For many pet owners, “the novelty wears off after a while,” she explains.

A growing menagerie

One thing led to another. Soon, Ann-Elizabeth adopted a two-year-old female iguana named Bean, and word began to spread that if an iguana (or “iggy” as they are nicknamed) needed a new home, Ann-Elizabeth would likely give it shelter.

Within a few months of the adoption of Bean, the young daughter of one of Ann-Elizabeth’s co-workers lost interest in her four-inch juvenile iguana, Widget. Ann-Elizabeth immediately offered to adopt the animal. And one evening a delivery person saw the iggy perched on Ann-Elizabeth’s shoulder and told her that his roommate was looking for a new home for his pet iguana. Her menagerie grew to three.

Ann-Elizabeth’s free time was soon consumed caring for these pets (which can grow to four and a half to five feet long) and learning more about them. She called the Humane Society of Boulder Valley to offer her services because she discovered that it routinely sent unwanted reptiles to breeders, many of whom were not equipped to care for them. Realizing the need for a network of “foster parents” to care for abandoned reptiles, she told the Humane Society that she would take in the animals, provide them with medical care if necessary, and find new homes for them. Thus, Colorado Reptile Rescue (CoRR) was created.

Along the way, Ann-Elizabeth met others who were committed to the welfare of injured or abandoned reptiles. She recruited a core group of volunteers to help care for her growing brood, which eventually included turtles, geckos, salamanders, a variety of lizards, and—eventually—snakes. She is frank with her opinion on snakes. “They’re extremely boring.”

CoRR is now a nonprofit organization licensed by the state of Colorado as an animal rescue facility. The group, which relies on monetary donations and the commitment of about 20 volunteers, has a threefold mission: treatment of injured or ill reptiles, adoption services, and public education. Since the organization’s formation in 1998, Ann-Elizabeth estimates that she has cared for more than 1,000 animals.

Other reptile enthusiasts praise her efforts. “She is an amazing person with an incredible desire to make the world a better place for reptiles,” says Shawna Pugmire, a CoRR volunteer.

Love among the reptiles

Ann-Elizabeth met Jonathan, her future husband, when he answered an ad she had placed in the Boulder Daily Camera to be a foster parent for CoRR. Jonathan owned several chameleons, and he and Ann-Elizabeth soon hit it off. Their interests, it should be noted, are not confined to cold-blooded creatures—they also like horseback riding (they board three horses), as well as hiking, camping, and reading.

One afternoon, Ann-Elizabeth was driving back to her home near downtown Longmont after transporting an ill reptile to a veterinarian in Greeley. She spotted a for sale sign in front of a rustic rectangular home on four acres northeast of Longmont. “I called Jonathan right away and said, ‘I know we’re leaving on vacation tomorrow morning, but you have to come see this house! It’s perfect.’”

Since purchasing the place, the couple has spent countless hours refurbishing it by turning one bedroom into an iguana room (complete with climbing posts) and another bedroom into a room for snakes. They also added reinforced pens outside for their desert tortoises and engaged the help of several Eagle Scouts who built a sturdy pen for some smaller box turtles.

The majority of their reptiles are iguanas, but the current census also includes 21 desert tortoises (an endangered species), 13 painted turtles, a dozen box turtles, and 3 Burmese pythons. Ann-Elizabeth assures visitors that the latter are housed in “cages with good locks.”

Ann-Elizabeth knows all the animals by name. She thinks they view her as a familiar presence but notes that they don’t seek out her company. “They aren’t like dogs—they don’t need or want a lot of cuddling.”

Ann-Elizabeth’s iguanas dine on alfalfa pellets; a variety of raw winter squash (acorn, butternut, spaghetti); green beans; parsnips; and collard, mustard, and turnip greens. A local Safeway store donates the food. “Jonathan pays it a visit nearly every day to pick up their trimmings,” she says.

Rehabilitating the animals can be a challenging task. “Sometimes animals are in horrible shape. I love taking a sick and untrusting animal and helping it to become healthy and trusting,” Ann-Elizabeth says. Initial treatment of sick reptiles often includes rehydrating animals by soaking them in Pedialyte (the solution often given to strengthen dehydrated infants and children). Underfeeding can make reptiles dangerous, and Ann-Elizabeth has learned by trial and error how to nurse a sick iguana back to health.

Ann-Elizabeth and Jonathan visit school groups to teach young children about reptiles and why they don’t make very good pets. They also host workshops for animal medicine and welfare professionals.

While she believes there will be a need for CoRR for many years (the organization has expanded to Colorado Springs, where it takes care of another 100 unwanted reptiles), Ann-Elizabeth hopes society begins to put more of an emphasis on the importance of responsible pet ownership.

Ann-Elizabeth jokes that “working with these animals is like earning my third master’s degree” (her first two are in fine arts and American history). She is reflective when she thinks about all she has accomplished. “Who was it who said, ‘evil happens when good people do nothing?’” she asks. “This is good work.” •Nancy Wade

Nancy, employment administrator in Human Resources, is an occasional contributor to Staff Notes Monthly.


Also in this issue...

Taking charge of GLOBE

A SOARS summer

One hail of a storm

Fire Season

Tackling the MS150

Delphi Question: Priarie dog display

NCAR names two new senior scientists



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