Missoula duo seek non-profit status for exotic animal rescue project | Local News
A lone leopard tortoise, native to eastern and southern Africa, was recently found on busy Highway 93 near Arlee north of Missoula, showing signs of abuse and no owner to be found.
A family spotted the animal, rescued it from the sidewalk and brought it to Zootown Exotics in Missoula, where it now happily chews grass and walks comfortably under a lamp.
Wyatt Wildey and Kadie Lovrien started their exotic animal rescue operation three years ago, and now they have about 100 animals. From pink boas and Chinese pond turtles to blue iguanas and frogs, they work diligently every day to care for and feed the creatures.
Toto, the aforementioned leopard tortoise, was a special rescue.
“When they found him, he had stickers all over him and they had to scrape off the sticker residue,” Lovrien explained. “Obviously from his condition he hasn’t been looked after very well. And even if an owner intervened he wasn’t going to come back to him. His spine was all bent. He’s just a great guy timid.
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Their animals are mostly rescues and come to them in a variety of ways. An elderly woman died in Helena, so they took in a blue and yellow macaw named Sissy. Sometimes the kids can’t take care of the snakes or lizards or a parent gets too busy or gets sick. Once the Bitterroot Humane Society found a turtle in an abandoned house. A friend of Wildey’s asked him to take care of a large clown knifefish. The other day, someone found rabbits that appeared to be 4-H project rejects wandering around the Kelly Island area.
“We are really preparing for the summer,” explained Lovrien. “There is literally hardly ever a day that we can go by without catching an animal.”
The duo work with local veterinarian Dr. Mark Klietz to ensure the animals receive the proper care. People have offered donations, but many of those offers have been rescinded because they’re not non-profit. So recently they raised over $1,000 on GoFundMe to hire an attorney to try and convert to a 501(c)(3) organization. They’ve also been struggling to pay their electric bill lately due to an influx of rescues and vet visits.
“We regularly pay around $200 to $400 a month on the electric bill,” Wildey said.
Lovrien said they’re really the only commercial exotic animal rescue in Montana, although there are a variety of smaller organizations doing similar work. Wildey has a large bus which he uses to take some of the best suited animals to show children for educational purposes.
They offer animals for adoption, but the couple say they try not to give animals to people who don’t seem capable of long-term caring for a pet.
“We really don’t adopt children in general,” he said. “They are adult pets.”
Some boas can live for 25 to 30 years, he noted, as can certain types of turtles and other reptiles. So a kid graduating from high school and going off to college would have no way to care for a pet.
Both Wildey and Lovrien say they donate a ton of their personal time and finances to the project, and they hope to eventually grow into a bigger space and continue their mission.
“We really think there’s a need,” Wildey said. “You know, there’s an insectary. There must be something for reptiles and small little mammals too, you know? »