Shoppers in Ipswich had a shock when they came face to face with the longest species of snake in the world.
But thankfully there was a very good reason why Buddy, the huge 18 foot long albino reticulated python was slithering around inside Sailmakers Shopping Centre.
It was brought into the centre by NR Exotics who provide sanctuary for hundreds of unwanted or neglected reptiles and animals across the area.
The sanctuary will be appearing with many of its wonderful and unusual creatures at a fundraising day next month for homelessness charity Emmaus Ipswich, who opened a store at Sailmakers earlier this year and who invited Buddy and his handlers to visit.
Richard Wiper, 31, who runs NR Exotics with partner and fellow former zoo keeper Nick Powell, 37, says they set up the sanctuary “by accident” having initially provided a safe haven for some neglected lizards and snakes.
He knew bringing the albino reticulated python to Sailmakers would grab the attention of shoppers.
Richard said: “It’s the world’s longest snake. She’s 18 feet but she’s only a baby – they will grow up to 25 feet.”
Richard and Nick have been spending £2,000 a month of their own money to house the animals they’ve been taking in, or in some cases had left on their doorstep, along with any kind-hearted donations they receive.
Last year they set up NR Exotics as an educational business so they could provide services such as school visits and phobia sessions.
They are currently in the process of becoming a charity in order to access grants which will help them continue providing a sanctuary for the animals, which include raccoons and meerkats.
Mike Sorhaindo, Manager of Sailmakers Shopping Centre, said: “This was certainly one of the more unusual visitors to the shopping centre and I’m sure it will have attracted a lot of interest from our customers.
“Richard and Nick are providing a valuable service by rescuing animals like these and we’re also happy to support our tenants when they are involved with local and national charities.”
NR Exotics will be carrying out demonstrations at the Emmaus Ipswich Vintage and Craft Fair Fundraiser at Otley Hall in Ipswich from 10am until 4pm on Wednesday, August 2.
The Fair will be opened by Terry Waite CBE and as well as over 20 craft stalls there will be activities throughout the day including The Bear Garden – make your own bear, POP Print Studios print workshops, face-painting, craft activities and much more.
All monies raised will support Emmaus Ipswich to help improve the lives and offer more choices, to those individuals who may be either homeless and/or workless.
Richard said: “We started with three or four vivariums with reptiles and now we’ve got six rooms full of them.
“Every reptile I was told I couldn’t have as a kid we’ve now got. I told my mum it was her fault.
“We were taking more and more in and it just gradually started developing into a sanctuary. It’s gone from strength to strength.
“We saw online that there were animals that had been dumped or not cared for, and then people were turning up and leaving animals on our doorstep.
“There were times when we thought we really shouldn’t have taken some in because the vet bills cost us a fortune.
“Nick has spent his inheritance and we fork out £2,000 a month out of our own pocket to keep it going. It’s paid for the van we use, power bills and food costs.
“We set up the educational business so we could go to schools and do the occasional birthday parties – basically only for those children who genuinely have an interest in the animal and want to learn about it.
“The money we bring in goes straight back into the sanctuary.”
Richard and Nick are passionate about helping as many animals as possible but there is a down side to what they do.
“When we walk into some of the situations where animals have been neglected it’s hard not to lose your temper,” said Richard.
“We keep a thorough record of all the animals now. At first we took the animals and just wanted to get them away from the bad situations they were in.
“In total we have more than 400 that we care for and as well as snakes there are bearded dragons and mammals such as ferrets and fox cubs – even giant tortoises. Overall we’ve helped 1,400 animals, rehoming many of them.
“I was speaking to a vet and he believes we’ve helped cut down the number of dumped animals in Ipswich by 80 per cent but we know there are many more that need help.”