Reindeer-schmeindeer. Santa’s pets aren’t nearly as popular in the Valley this time of year as the scaley, slithering creatures at Phoenix Herpetological Society. The non-profit throws open its doors for holiday tours, which often sell out.
“We take no more than 25 (people) per tour guide, so the tours do fill up, especially when school is out,” says Russ Johnson, president of the nonprofit dedicated to rehabilitating and preserving reptiles in Arizona.
Its 2.5-acre sanctuary in North Scottsdale is home to more than 1,700 animals, including crocodiles, monitor lizards and king cobras.
“Out of the 23 recognized species of crocodilians, we have 19 on display. Only a couple of other organizations in the country — one in Lousiana — have more, and we have more species of venomous reptiles on display than the San Diego Zoo,” says Johnson.
Visitors on the tour will get to interact with and feed a number of animals — including endangered Galapagos tortoises — and handle non-venomous snakes like Xena, a 240-lb. albino reticulated python. Watching Mrs. E, a saltwater crocodile, “tail walk” for her meal is another highlight.
In a glass observation and research space called the Venom Room, guests can view more than 225 species of highly dangerous snakes, such as the Black Mamba and Gaboon Viper and all 13 species of Arizona rattlesnakes.
“Tours take two to three hours, depending on how many questions the group has. We don’t pass anybody up, because we’re here to educate,” says Johnson.
IF YOU GO
What: Get up close with a huge variety of reptiles on a guided tour with Phoenix Herpetological Society.
When: 1 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, through Jan. 4, 2014. Closed Christmas Day.
Where: 20701 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
Cost: $20 for ages 16 and older, $15 for ages 4-15 and 55 and older
Information: (480) 513-4377 or PhoenixHerp.com