Kraken and Eloy are Phoenix Herpetological Society's newest residents

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NORTH SCOTTSDALE – The three principals at Phoenix Herpetological Society (PHS) are Chairman Russ Johnson, Vice President Debbie Gibson and Curator Dan Marchand (correctly pronounced “Mar-shon”). I am bestowing upon them the nickname “The Three Rescueteers.”

This dedicated trio learned long ago that “rescues” can develop at the most unexpected times from the most unlikely sources.

DAN marchand holding a alligator snapping turtle
Dan Marchand, holding a very unhappy Kraken, and capture assistant, Yvonne Anderson, 42. “Captain Capture,” Caleb Reischmann, 16, was unavailable for photo.    Photo by Pete Mohr

Introducing the newest “residents” at PHS: Kraken, an ornery-looking 62 pound Alligator Snapping Turtle, indigenous to the swamps of the Deep South, and Eloy, a 5’3” Asian Water Monitor (second largest lizard in the world), whose native habitat are the islands of Indonesia. How-in-the-hell did they end up at PHS?

On Sunday afternoon, May 23, Phoenician volunteers Yvonne Anderson, 42, a legislative lobbyist by profession (recently the bride of Eric Bizjak), and Caleb Reischmann, 16, were winding down their participation in Arizona Game and Fish Department’s annual “turtle surveying” at the Phoenix Zoo’s lagoon, which seeks to remove “non-native” species. Female Red-Eared Sliders, grown from “cute, little” pet store babies, are the principal quarry.

Anderson and Resichmann set out, by boat, to find a missing trap. Not only did young Caleb spy the trap, but he couldn’t fail to see that its captive was a huge Alligator Snapping Turtle! [So-named because its shell strikingly resembles the hide of an alligator.] With Yvonne bravely holding onto one edge of the trap, Caleb paddled as hard as he could for shore. A 62-pound Alligator Snapping Turtle makes for a pretty strong drag! Once there, Game and Fish took over, weighed the monster and immediately dispatched him (or her) to PHS.

Naming rights belong to the finder. From the ominous sea creature in “Clash of the Titans,” Caleb chose the name Kraken. No one knows how long Kraken had been terrorizing the Zoo’s lagoon. At PHS, he/she, in a pond enclosure soon to be under construction, will become a featured exhibit. Nice work, Caleb and Yvonne! Now to Eloy, the site of his/her capture.

Monday night, May 24, Dan Marchand received a telephone call from Eloy, Ariz. farmer Kirk Weddle, who, upon Dan’s questioning, accurately described “a big, six-foot lizard” Weddle had seen several times hanging out at the edge of an irrigation canal. Dan was virtually certain the animal was an Asian Water Monitor, similar to Rowdy, PHS’s in-residence 13-year-old Monitor.

monitor lizard
Dan, holding the extracted Asian Water Monitor, and Debbie Gibsonís son, Kyle Watkins, on the bank of the irrigation canal where Eloy was discovered and dug out.  Photo by Russ Johnson

Down to the sighting location Tuesday morning went Dan and Russ, accompanied by Debbie’s son, Kyle Watkins, who’ll play at tight end this fall for UNLV’s Football Rebels. It didn’t take Dan long to spot suspicious “tail-drag markings” leading to an obvious burrow. He dug 4 feet down until he saw the Monitor’s tail; and then, digging a front hole and wearing protective gloves, Dan was able to pull the Monitor out, naming the lizard Eloy to honor the site of the rescue. I figure some funky sky diver (for which Eloy is famous) must’ve turned loose a “pet” that had grown too large. What do you do with a 5-foot Monitor? He/she will be well-cared for at PHS.

Viewing Kraken and Eloy (and some pretty fierce-looking ‘gators) requires an appointment. Call Dan Marchand at 602-550-7029. An admission donation of $10 per person is charged. Children three and under are free.