Mr. Drew wows kids with bugs and reptiles

By Kendra Caruso | Jan 03, 2020
Photo by: Kendra Caruso Mr. Drew holds his bearded dragon, native to Australia, while educating children about exotic species at the Belfast Public Library Dec. 30, 2019.

Belfast — Drew Desjardins brought his exotic animals to the Belfast Free Library to educate children about what most people consider to be “bad animals,” he said. Desjardins believes there are no bad animals.

He took turns carrying a tarantula, snapping turtle, hissing cockroach and others around the room at the Dec. 30, 2019, event. Some of the children could be seen squirming with excitement, while their parents made faces of discomfort.

Desjardins said he likes teaching children about animals that adults often fear because kids are more open-minded. Fear is taught, he said, and he tries to help people unlearn their fears of animals like spiders and snakes to eliminate the stigma humans place on them.

Most of his animals are given to him by people who cannot take care of them or who moved to Maine not knowing that the animal was illegal in the state. Maine has some of the strictest laws concerning owning exotic animals, but they are not well known, which is why so many animals end up at Desjardins’ center in Lewiston, he said.

He tries to raise awareness about Maine’s strict pet laws during his events, but said the state should put more effort into informing the public about them.

Desjardins is on a subcommittee through Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife that helps inform state rulemaking about owning exotic pets.

He thinks it is good that Maine has strict laws about owning exotic pets, because other states are suffering severe ecosystem changes because of exotic invasive species, foreign animals that out-compete native species and threaten an ecosystem.

“We try to be proactive in this state because we don’t want to be Florida,” he said. “... But the problem is we don’t know what to do with them. That’s where I come in.”

Florida is one of the states most affected by invasive exotic species, he said. Because of its mild climate, he said, foreign snakes, bugs and other animals will out-compete some native species, creating a decline that can land native animals on the endangered species list.

Maine’s cold winters prevent many of the exotic invasive species found in the southern United States from having much of an effect if they are released here and prevents their northern migration, he said.

But Desjardins said there are some exotic invasive animals found in the state, such as a number of exotic turtle species.

One of the event’s crowd favorites, and not a common invasive species found in Maine, was a 9-foot boa constrictor named Artemis. The snake remained calm as it received attention from the children who flocked around Desjardins holding it after the show. But the people who gave Desjardins the snake swore it was so mean they could not open its cage to feed it.

It was dehydrated, hungry and the cage was covered in waste so much that the snake had ammonia burns underneath it, Desjardins said. Once he got the snake back to good health and a clean cage, he said, she became very friendly.

His passion for exotic animals started when his mother first told him “no,” Desjardins said. He was always in swamps looking for fish and other animals to take home, behind his mother’s back.

She told him that he could have as many animals as he wanted when he grew up. So, with more than 150 animals currently at his facility, he said, he has done just that.

He is frequently hired for events and sells some animals. He takes calls from state officials, like game wardens, and residents seeking help to identify if a species is exotic or legal in Maine, despite not receiving any state funds for his services.

But Desjardins said that educating people and seeing the excitement on childrens’ faces after they learn about his animals makes his efforts worthwhile.

To contact Desjardins with animal or event inquiries, call 576-1034.

A young girl holds a tarantula at a talk by Drew Desjardins about exotic animals at the Belfast Free Library Dec. 30, 2019. (Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
Drew Desjardins rubs underneath his savannah monitor's neck, which the animal appears to enjoy, while talking to children about exotic species at the Belfast Free Library. (Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
A hissing cockroach crawls on Drew Desjardins face while he talks to children about exotic animals at a Belfast Free Library event Dec. 30, 2019. (Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
Drew Desjardins asks children to pretend to be a turtle as he explains the difference between turtles and tortoises at a Belfast Free Library event. (Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
Drew Desjardins shows a photo of how large a pixie frog can grow as the second-largest frog in the world, at a Belfast Free Library event Dec. 30, 2019. (Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
Drew Desjardins tells a group of students at the Belfast Free Library Dec. 30, 2019, about discovering his snapping turtle as a hatchling frozen to the ground. He took the turtle in with the intention of releasing it that spring. But upon discovering the turtle loves blankets and neck rubs, he decided it was too conditioned to humans for a successful release back into the wild. (Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
(Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
(Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
(Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
(Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
(Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
(Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
(Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
(Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
(Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
(Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
(Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
(Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
(Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
(Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
(Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
(Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
(Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
(Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
(Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
(Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
(Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
(Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
(Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
(Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
(Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
Comments (1)
Posted by: Paul Sheridan | Jan 04, 2020 10:25

Fun article.

Would be improved by addition of this weblink:

<maine.gov/ifw/fish-wildlife/captivity.html>

A summary of laws on Fish and Wildlife in Captivity in Maine

Hopefully, Mr. Drew is also circulating a printed copy of this information, or similar.

Otherwise, he might be simply expanding the market for exotic species: "Mommy I want a tarantula (snapping turtle, hissing cockroach, etc.) for my birthday!"



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