Getting in touch with Real Reptiles

January 27, 2019

One Norfolkan has an interest that few people share: a passion for reptiles.

Will Abler, a student at Northeast Community College and a Norfolk Catholic High School graduate, not only owns and cares for more than a dozen reptiles in his family’s home, he also recently launched a business centered on the creatures.

Abler owns and operates Real Reptiles, which focuses on interactive education with his reptiles. Before he founded it in 2017, he had been presenting his animals as part of a 4-H project.

Eventually, with his family’s support he turned into a business venture.

Since its launch, Abler said, it has taken off more quickly than he anticipated. He has done programs at local libraries in the region, Poppy’s Pumpkin Patch in Norfolk and at private parties.

One of the main purposes of his new business is to show people the realities of reptiles.

“A lot of reptiles get kind of a bad rap, and while you do have to respect them, there’s a lot of misconceptions,” Abler said. “People think they’re all big and bad, which isn’t true. A lot of them are kept as common pets.”

Abler’s passion for reptiles began at a young age.

“Growing up I was really into dinosaurs, and the closest living things to dinosaurs are alligators and crocodiles,” Abler said.

He frequently watched the show “The Crocodile Hunter” and was inspired by the charismatic host, Steve Irwin.

Taking a page out of Irwin’s book, he would attend county fairs spending time with animals and even wrestling alligators.

“It kind of spiraled from there,” Abler said.

Abler’s first reptile he owned was an albino Burmese python named Gordy, which Abler took in when he was only 8 years old. It came about when he and his family moved into their current house, and a neighbor had a snake the family was looking to give away.

It immediately caught Abler’s attention.

“They said, ‘We have this snake,’ and my mind boggled,” he said. “So I ended up getting my first pet snake and then later some geckos and other lizards.”

Abler still owns Gordy, who is now by Abler’s estimation about 20 years old, eight feet long and 40 pounds.

Gordy’s size and temperament make him a staple of the Real Reptiles programs.

“I typically start with the smaller animals and work my up to the larger ones like Gordy,” he said.

The American alligator, Steve (named after the late Steve Irwin), is also unique.

Steve came from a specialized alligator farm. As a consequence, Steve has not grown to the typical size for an alligator of its age. He is currently about two and half feet long.

“Alligators are supposed to grow about a foot a year until they’re fully grown, so Steve should be about five feet long,” Abler said. “He’s healthy but just hasn’t reached that potential yet.”

Though it will take time, Steve will eventually grow into a full adult size, which will be about 10 to 12 feet. Abler said he plans to, at some point, give him back to his original owner, who has a proper place to keep full-grown alligators. From there, he will have access to Steve and may find another smaller alligator to keep for the business.

American alligators, which are native to the southern United States, are less aggressive than their closely related cousins, crocodiles and caimans.

“Steve Irwin once said they’re more like frogs with teeth,” Abler said.

Among the other animals and reptiles he owns include several other species of snakes, such as an Australian carpet python, a tortoise named Scooter and a three-foot iguana.

Most of the creatures Abler has are rescues.

“Most of my animals are rescues or surrender animals,” he said. “Some animals will keep going back and forth because people don’t want to care of them anymore.”

The care required for each reptile varies by species, as snakes and pythons eat usually once every week or two while other species like smaller geckos eat once every day.

Their enclosures also receive a deep cleaning once each week.

“They don’t require as much care as something like a dog or a cat,” Abler said.

Abler said he wants to keep the business going for as long as possible. Currently, he is studying biology at Northeast.

After he earns his degree, he’ll consider continuing the business or transferring to another school to earn a bachelor’s degree in either zoology or herpetology, the study of reptiles.

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