Chameleons, boa constrictors and other rascally reptiles will be on display this weekend in North Hollywood when "critter kids" and their parents from the Southwest Herpetologists Society hold an open house to show off the exotic creatures they have adopted.
Eight-year-old Alyssia Hooper, her sister, Melissa, 6, and their brother, Jeremiah, 4, are the critter kids who provide tender loving care for a Jackson's chameleon, one of 373 animals confiscated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from an illegal shipment.
"When he's relaxed, he turns a bright, beautiful green," said Alyssia.
Jeremiah has become so comfortable tending reptiles that he's been filmed for a Pet Expo commercial holding an albino Burmese python.
These kids and their parents, James and Lisa Hooper, are active in the Herpetologists Society, a private organization that finds homes for contraband creatures. When federal, state or local authorities in Southern California find themselves with stray, sick or injured reptiles and amphibians, they call the Van Nuys-based volunteer organization. Contraband animal shipments are not returned to their shippers.
This weekend, at the society's annual Live Reptile and Amphibian Exhibit, hundreds of animals plus the folks who have provided them homes will be on hand, including the Hooper kids and their chameleon. Other kids will be showing their boa constrictors, monitor lizards, firebelly toads and bearded dragons.
Josh Schatt, 10, of North Hollywood adopted a boa constrictor found by the Fish and Wildlife Service in the cargo hold of an airplane.
"The sneaky snake maybe escaped from some unmarked luggage, or just stowed away," Josh said.
His father, Steve, is the Herpetologists Society's "adoption chair." Two years ago, he gave Josh's brother, Ben, now 11, responsibility for a monitor lizard that had been confiscated by officials.
Ben Freidus, 10, who attends Topanga Elementary School, started a reptile menagerie when he was 4. It has been home to sideblotch lizards and collared lizards, as well as 25 firebelly toads raised from tadpoles.
"We created a decent habitat," Ben said proudly.
This includes feeding his lizards a diet of mice.
Lorenzo Mossbarger, 9, is another critter kid with a no-nonsense attitude about keeping reptiles as pets.
"A lot of people are so scared of snakes it disgusts me," said Lorenzo, who has cared for 15 of the reptiles over the years.
Southwest Herpetologists Society's Live Reptile and Amphibian Exhibit, Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m.-4 p.m., North Hollywood Recreation Center, 11430 Chandler Blvd. at Tujunga Avenue. $5; seniors $3; ages 6-13, $2; 5 and under free. (818) 708-7740.