ATHENS TWP. — At Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary, each individual single animal has a story.
Choose Tom, for occasion. The 9-foot alligator employed to live in a frat home in Cincinnati, Ohio, the place he frequently lounged on the couch and ate pizza. Or Penelope, a tortoise whose prior owners fed her dog foodstuff.
There is certainly Crockett, an alligator who was discovered lying in a bathtub comprehensive of cocaine all through a drug bust. And Archie, the young alligator who was listed for sale on Craigslist in St. Louis, Missouri.
These are just a few of the hundreds of reptiles acquiring a new lease on lifestyle thanks to the Critchlow spouse and children, who opened the 4 1/2 acre sanctuary far more than a decade in the past at 1698 M-66 north of Athens.
“It’s not some thing you be expecting to uncover in the Midwest, really,” Peter Critchlow said Wednesday as he available a tour of the grounds. “But there is a have to have for it for the reason that there is so numerous folks that have unique animals and close up not becoming in a position to acquire care of them.”
What started as a mini sanctuary of snakes, turtles and iguanas rescued by Peter’s father, David Critchlow, at the family’s Pennfield residence in the 1990s and early 2000s has remodeled into a complete-scale rescue exertion and thriving business.
Formally introduced in 2008, the sanctuary now can take in about 25-30 alligators each year, lots of of which have worn out their welcome as household pets.
The sanctuary also involves dwarf caimans, a Nile crocodile, a Morelet’s crocodile, and several turtles and tortoises, among other reptiles.
The facility added 120 animals in 2021, doubling its tortoise population though also including 30 alligators.
“We had no strategy how much desire there would be for this when we started,” stated David Critchlow’s grandson Alex West, who now functions total-time at the sanctuary.
“My goal and hope is that we can just maintain this place jogging as extensive as we can,” West ongoing. “I just want to make guaranteed that these fellas have someplace that they can continue to be.”
‘I had good friends that weren’t permitted at my house’
The Critchlows’ like of reptiles can be traced back to David, who has been fascinated with them at any time due to the fact he was a kid.
“What tiny young children do not like alligators?” he instructed the Enquirer earlier, admitting his appreciate of the beasts probably stemmed from his father, Jack, who was a biology instructor in Fight Creek.
David started rescuing snakes, turtles and other reptiles in the 1990s and early 2000s, trying to keep them in the yard for the duration of warmer months. In the winter, the animals had been stored within the family’s property.
“Mates loved coming over,” Peter explained with a smile. “Basically, a large amount of mother and father ended up a small nervous about it. I had mates that weren’t allowed at my residence.”
Peter recalls staying about 15 decades outdated when the loved ones first took in an alligator. A pal of a buddy who experienced a person as a pet was heading on trip and essential someone to look at it. Ultimately, they by no means came back for the animal.
About time, David received extra calls about alligators in have to have, using in as lots of as he and his loved ones could support at their residence.
“At a sure place, it was like, ‘Well, why never we just make some thing and have men and women occur to us?'” West reported. “We just had much too a lot of animals.”
The Critchlows initially hoped to open up their sanctuary in Convis Township near Cornwell’s Turkeyville. But a furious community backlash forced them to back off.
With about 30 alligators and a selection of other reptiles, the spouse and children subsequently opened their sanctuary in Athens Township in 2008.
By means of word of mouth, a expanding social media existence and potent associations with zoos all through the U.S., the sanctuary has grown to include approximately 200 alligators on your own, alongside with other reptiles.
“I experience like just one of the causes we’ve been thriving is due to the fact the phrase of mouth has been so beneficial,” Peter mentioned. “It’s not like a zoo. It is a sanctuary. It’s developed for (the animals) so you’re observing them being taken care of in the most purely natural way we can. They are not in minimal stalls or cages or really on screen for us. It’s much more like their residence and we’re just traveling to.”
‘They all have their own story to tell’
When the Critchlows acquire a new alligator, they carefully operate to acclimate the animal to the outdoor and — to the extent feasible — other alligators.
The alligators are grouped by sizing, which Peter says is the greatest way to hold them from preventing with every single other. Preschool, with the smallest animals, is protected by a roof so predators these as herons would not swoop in and snatch the animals. Elementary school is for the smallest gators (significantly less than 2 toes) center school includes the mid-sized alligators (three to 6 ft) superior school features larger sized gators.
Godzilla and Medusa, the sanctuary’s premier male and feminine alligators, respectively, have their have isolated show, as do various alligators with very long-term injuries. New arrivals normally get started their keep in isolation as properly, West stated.
Amongst the alligators in isolation is Smiley, a 31-calendar year-outdated who just lately joined the sanctuary immediately after many years with her primary homeowners in Minnesota, where by she had been a normal attraction at renaissance festivals.
Cassanova, meanwhile, was rescued from Whitmore Lake north of Ann Arbor in 2015, and Mitch was recovered from a residence in Detroit in which he experienced been stored as a guard animal.
Tyrion, the sanctuary’s oldest alligator at 32 many years previous, was retained in a darkish Minnesota basement for 25 decades in advance of he was brought to the sanctuary.
“Just like with people today, (the alligators) all have their personal story to explain to,” mentioned Lina Kelly, David’s daughter who serves as one of the caretakers at the sanctuary. “For us, any time we get new animals, we attempt to get as a great deal of their story from the unique owners so we can share that with the general public.”
When the alligators get to be about five to six feet in length, the Critchlows train the alligators — not for enjoyment functions, but rather to make them a lot easier to deal with. Alligators sooner or later master their names and how to react to fundamental instructions like “up” and “down.”
This link with caretakers makes it much simpler in the drop, when the alligators are moved to an on-web site heated indoor facility for the wintertime. The standard commands also allow the Critchlows to demonstrate the intelligence of these reptiles to website visitors, a lot of of whom enter with misconceptions that alligators “will hunt you down and take in you.”
“(Alligators) are pretty amazing animals and they do, they get this sort of a bad wrap,” Kelly reported. “There is really several publications or motion pictures the place the alligator, or even just reptiles in typical, are the heroes. They are usually the villains and so if we can clearly show that they’re not actually all villains, we can try to teach (individuals) a minimal bit extra.”
In addition to everyday guided excursions offered at the sanctuary, the Critchlows operate with quite a few space faculties on academic courses as effectively as offer internships at the sanctuary.
The spouse and children also hosts Crocodilian Containment and Security Training (CCST) sessions each and every year for legislation enforcement and animal regulate organizations all through the Midwest, educating finest tactics for how to protected an alligator without having causing harm to the animal.
A lot more than just about anything, the Critchlows just want to make sure these animals have a excellent residence for generations to arrive.
“If we can develop the stewards of tomorrow, or just at the very least aid steer any person in that route, that, to me, is the ideal end result,” Peter said.
Arranging a take a look at?
Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary, 1698 M-66, south of Struggle Creek
• Admission is $11.95 for grownups and most kids, $10.95 for seniors ages 60 and older and free of charge for young ones 2 and youthful animal encounters such as feeding tortoises or holding a smaller alligator are available at an supplemental price tag
• Several hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. everyday May possibly 1 through Oct. 1
• For more information, visit alligatorsanctuary.com
Speak to reporter Greyson Steele at [email protected] or 269-501-5661. Adhere to him on Twitter: G_SteeleBC