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Have Gator, Will Travel

James Ricciardi and Tic, his eight-foot reticulated python. (photo by Rose Mattrey)

James Riccardi and his reptiles prefer to travel by Buffalo CarShare

When checking out the website of Buffalo CarShare—a non-profit car rental initiative of Green Options Buffalo—you’ll be treated to the exuberant faces of some happy customers. “I find it so affordable and convenient to my house,” says LaVerne. “For the occasional trip outside the area, there is nothing easier than reserving my CarShare online,” explains Kelly.

What you won’t find are the praises of Allentown local James Riccardi, whose testimonial would read a bit differently: “Hi, I’m James Riccardi, and I can depend on Buffalo CarShare to transport my American alligator to reptile shows and exhibits.”

Riccardi is a man with an interesting hobby, and while most of us would only be comfortable with large reptiles behind a thick sheet of glass, James has some interesting specimens fully integrated into his Allentown flat. The spare room has been converted into a nursery, but instead of a crib in the corner, there is a small pond and the bundle of joy is a three-foot alligator snapping turtle named Munster. Tic, an eight-foot reticulated python, sleeps comfortably in an 80-degree heat room separated from James’ own bedroom. And Blake the baby American alligator has his own kiddy pool in the middle of the living room floor.

This may sound like a DIY zoo, but to James, it wouldn’t be home without his cold-blooded friends, and ever since his move from the Hudson Valley, he has been committed to continuing his lifelong involvement with wildlife. The reptile shows are part of this commitment, because, unsurprisingly, you can’t just pick up gators and pythons in any pet store, and not just anyone can keep them in their homes. The New York State Department of Environment Conservation runs a tight ship, and if you want an eight-foot reticulated python sleeping in your bedroom, you better have a permit for that. So to James, these reptile shows aren’t only a great way to show off his scaly roommates, it’s the only way for him to fulfill the DEC requirements for his reptile papers.

Buffalo, even with Nickel City’s famous reptile man Jeff Musial, is not huge on the reptile scene, and to get to these conventions Riccardi must make the occasional pilgrimage. His worn and wrinkled copy of Reptiles USA lists this year’s dates and locations, and the closest the shows get to is Columbus, Ohio, and Hamburg, Pennsylvania. When James sold his van earlier this year, reptile transport became a concern. Luckily, while walking in his neighborhood, he stumbled upon the Buffalo CarShare office. Curious, went in and explained his situation to the company. They may have not understood James’ hobby, but they did understand his plight and gave him the go-ahead on the gator andon taking the vehicle out of state. Maybe not a Nobel-worthy act of kindness, but at least James can sleep soundly knowing that his reticulated python, alligator snapping turtle, and American alligator will remain by his side.

—geoffrey anstey

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