If you live in the Rita Ranch area, you’ll see an assortment of family-friendly suburban homes. One of the most welcoming homes is that of Cressi Brown and her daughter, Joleen Hosler, who share space with many species of reptiles and other animals.
As you walk throughout their home, which doubles as the Southern Arizona Reptile Rescue and Education, you’ll witness snakes, lizards, turtles, bunnies, ducks and more. Brown and Hosler offer a tour, along with educational facts and backgrounds on the animals in their home.
“Southern Arizona Reptile Rescue and Education is Tucson’s only licensed reptile rescue,” said Brown, the organization’s founder and executive director. “The four functions that we perform are rescue, relocate, rehab and educate. We take the education part of our organization very serious.”
Some of the animals in their home have even been granted the title “reptile ambassador,” a title that isn’t handed out easily.
“Our reptile ambassadors are reptiles that either belong to us personally or we have acquired as a rescue that we use in our community events and educational presentations,” Brown said. “...Not just any animal can stand up to this type of exposure and the commotion that goes along with it.”
When it comes to handling reptiles, Brown is experienced for the job: She worked as a veterinarian for seven years, during which she helped treat reptiles and other exotic animals, and she holds an Arizona Game and Fish license, allowing her to relocate reptiles.
With a deep well of experience to draw from, Brown said she started the rescue to fill what she saw as a tremendous niche need in the Tucson area.
“There are always rescue organizations that can take in cats and dogs but with reptiles, their requirements are so much different than other animals that it is very specialized and cannot just be taken in by other rescue like Humane Society and [Pima Animal Care Center],” she said.
According to Hosler, the rescue’s services are requested on a daily basis to care for various reptiles and amphibians
The rescue also works in partnership with others to ensure reptiles are being protected.
“We work collaboratively with other organizations throughout the state such as the Humane Society and PACC,” Brown said. “They are set up to take care of cats and dogs but not set up to take care of reptiles so they call us to come and retrieve them. Game and Fish only deals with native reptiles, but they are often called when people find tortoises such as African Sulcatas. They call us and we retrieve them.”
Brown said the rescue even recently obtained a snapping turtle that was discovered at Agua Caliente Park.
Even before her experience as a veterinarian, Brown was already familiar with reptiles.
“I have worked with reptiles the majority of my life,” Brown said. “I have always lived on a farm or in a similar setting where there were always lots of animals but I’ve always been drawn to the reptiles.”
While the rescue is located in the comfort of their home, there are plans to expand, including a new property and 501 (C)(3) status.
To learn more about Southern Arizona Reptile Rescue, located at 8527 E. Via Cortina De Madera, visit cressi.ueniweb.com or call 1(808) 747-6445.
Ambur Wilkerson is a University of Arizona journalism graduate student and Tucson Local Media intern.