Mary Esther Hart displays Wilbur's tuxedo -- he was later buried in it.

Mad Poisoner Stalks Hart's Reptile World

Sherman the Tortoise and Wilbur the Crocodile have been murdered.

Both reptilian Bad Boys -- favorites of Roadsiders for decades -- lived at Hart's Reptile World ("Home to Happy Reptiles") in Canby, OR. Both were poisoned in 1997 by unknown assailants, though at least one HRW official suspects militant animal activists.

"Everyone loved Sherman," remembers Mary Esther Hart, owner and collective Mom to Reptile World's family of snakes, lizards, gators and crocs. "And Wilbur was so gentle and kind..." She pauses to choke back tears of grief. "We were joined at the hip," she says in a small voice.

Wilbur was the huggable star of Hart's and enjoyed an unleashed run of the place. He had his own bedroom and his own tuxedo, which he wore to children's parties and company picnics. That ended abruptly on December 18, when some faceless fiend fed Wilbur a poisoned chicken wing. He was only 20. Sherman was 88 when he was poisoned in a similar fashion in August.

Sherman thinks the lawnmower is a girl turtle! The tortoise's friendly gullibility made him easy prey for his killer.

Mary believes that both Wilbur and Sherman were the victims of radical kooks who would rather see an animal in a coffin than in a tuxedo. "I'm a prime candidate," she tells us, lumping her own fate in with that of her attraction and her reptiles.

A forensic team from Portland University Medical Center confirmed that both Wilbur and Sherman were the victims of foul play. But could the killers really have been nature nut extremists, more cold-blooded than their reptilian victims?

Wilbur's sign.

Mary Hart has no doubt. "You wouldn't believe what these people are capable of," she confides. Then, firmly: "First I cried, then I got mad, then I dug my feet in."

Mary has taken pains to protect her remaining animals from harm, but she has no plans to shut down Hart's, despite the potential danger to herself. "They picked the wrong person to mess with," is all she will say. In defiance she has added two new alligators to her attraction since Wilbur's demise: Godzilla and Rodan, 11 and 9.5 feet long, respectively. Godzilla weighs 450 pounds. "When they bellow, this place sounds like Jurassic Park."

Reptile World will honor the memory of Wilbur with a Valentine's Weekend memorial tribute. All fans and friends of Hart's are invited to attend.

A Wilbur Tribute: Take a moment to visit a pictorial tribute to Wilbur the Entertainer, featuring images from his holiday cards.

[01/18/1998]
Hours:
No public hours, continues as a rescue org.
Status:
Gone

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