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Local News in Brief : Irvine : Thieves Can’t Steal Life Out of Science Class

Times Staff Writer

Seventh-graders at Rancho San Joaquin Intermediate School have been fascinated by life science instructor Bill W. Anderson’s “teaching tools"--animals of all kinds, including a 15-foot python, caged cockateels, wild deer mice, exotic fish and more in two rooms used to expose his pupils to wildlife.

But in one corner, next to a wall covered with clippings from science magazines, a glass aquarium marked “Haitian Boa” sits empty. The two specimens that had lived there were among $2,200 worth of reptiles stolen from the Irvine classroom earlier this week.

“They took some really unusual king snakes that you can’t legally buy in California,” Anderson said. An albino corn snake and a western hognose snake also were among the 23 snakes, 3 turtles and 2 lizards stolen Tuesday, he said. Only about 15 of the reptiles remain.

Irvine Police Lt. Pat Rodgers said the suspects pried the classroom door open with a blunt object sometime between midnight and 8 a.m. Tuesday. Officers were unable to find any usable fingerprints Tuesday, but they are still investigating the case.

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Anderson said he had bought many of the missing reptiles with his own money. Others he had found under rocks while on trips or morning runs. He added that he spends much of his free time collecting and caring for the animals that bring “life” to his science classes.

“This is what I love, and I put 100% into what I do,” he said.

The reason for the elaborate exhibit, he said, is that most of his students, about age 12, aren’t really interested in “the booky stuff.” But if they can be made interested by looking at the actual creatures, “that’s when they’ll read,” he said.

Anderson’s approach seems to work. On Friday, students were planning a “snake dance” and a candy sale to replace some of the stolen animals, school officials said.

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During class Friday, Anderson lifted one of the remaining snakes, a 15-foot python, from its temporary home--a green garbage pail, for about 35 wide-eyed students.

“If you look inside his mouth,” he said, holding the snake by its neck, “you’ll see a little hole. That’s his breathing tube.”

“Hey Mr. Anderson,” one pupil called out. “What does that guy eat?”

Rabbits and chickens and such, Anderson responded. But watching the reptiles eat is an experience he reserves for his advanced students. “A lot of the kids couldn’t handle it,” he explained.

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