LAKE FOREST — Turtles can live 200 years, which means in human terms 150-year-old Bruno, who lives at Lake Forest’s Wildlife Discovery Center, is barely beyond middle age.
Bruno will likely be part of a menagerie of turtles, tortoises, snakes, lizards, alligators and crocodiles at the center’s 20th annual Reptile Rampage between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. March 12 at the Lake Forest Recreation Center.
A rescue turtle who came to the center eight years ago, Bruno gets special attention, according to Rob Carmichael, the center’s curator since its inception in 1997. Carmichael said Bruno is in excellent health now but any deviation from that could keep him home from the Rampage.
“He’s a very special animal,” said Carmichael. “He’s fine now but we won’t take any risks.”
Along with Bruno, visitors to the Rampage can get hands-on experience with a variety of other reptiles. Carmichael said one of the world’s most endangered species, the Utila Island iguana, will be there. People can also touch Dorothy, an 18-foot long Burmese python, or an Asian water monitor lizard once owned by Nicholas Cage.
Children and adults will get an up-close look at the reptiles as well as an opportunity to talk to experts about them, according to Carmichael. The cost of admission — $10 for adults and $3 for children 3 or over — goes toward local conservation efforts.
“Reptiles are such amazing creatures,” said Carmichael. “We want people to get a chance to experience them and learn more about them. We also want to raise awareness of our conservation efforts. This will be like a zoo on steroids.”
Getting the 250-pound Bruno from his home in a large water-filled tank at the Wildlife Discovery Center to the recreation center is no easy task, according to Carmichael. It takes three people to move him from his tank to a car for the short ride. The same people will have to remove him from the car and put him in a temporary tank at the recreation center.
Bruno came to the center eight years ago when Carmichael got a call from a law enforcement agency. Carmichael said Bruno was near death and could not get adequate care in his current home. Lake Forest gave it a try.
“I had to feed him through a tube for the first year,” said Carmichael. “He had rust all over his body and you couldn’t even see his skin he was so emaciated. Eventually he started eating and showed us he wanted to live.”
Carmichael said turtles have such a long lifespan because they have a very slow metabolism, moving around slowly if at all. They also eat a healthy diet.
“They eat fish they catch,” said Carmichael about the snapping turtle. “They eat berries and (vegetation) that fall to the surface from trees.”
A few years ago, Carmichael said, he got a call from someone who knew Cage. The actor had a lot of work at the time and wanted to find the right home for his pet lizard.
“A few days later he showed up,” said Carmichael. “He’s very special, very tame. In the summer we can put a lease on him and children can walk him around here.”
Another purpose of the Reptile Rampage is introducing people to reptiles, which Carmichael said make good pets. There will also be a display of venomous snakes. The poisonous reptiles will be in locked, glass cages but a good listener can hear a rattle.
“The venom is being tested to treat diseases like cancer and diabetes,” said Carmichael. “They are also good for rodent control. We want people to know that.”
A Lake Forest native who graduated from Lake Forest High School, Carmichael said he joined the Parks & Recreation department in 1990 to run its sports programs. Before taking that job he played professional baseball rising to the AA level. He said he immediately began lobbying for a nature center featuring reptiles.
“It’s been a passion since I was at least 5,” said Carmichael. “I started suggesting a nature center and (retired Lake Forest Parks & Recreation Department Executive Director Fred) Jackson bought in.”
Seven years after he started with the department, Carmichael opened the Wildlife Discovery Center and he has been in his job ever since.