Stolen SUV full of reptiles recovered after thief leaves car running with heater on

Arizona man thankful to have animals back

DENVER - A stolen SUV full of reptiles has been found with all of the animals in good condition.

"Wildman" Phil Rakoci lives in Casa Grande, Ariz., but he makes his living traveling with a truck full of reptiles. He was in the Denver area when his vehicle was stolen on Wednesday.

Rakoci said  that his vehicle was recovered at Harvey Park in West Denver Thursday morning. Two off-duty firefighters were about the play tennis there and recognized the SUV with the engine running.

"All my possessions where gone but they were nice enough to leave the engine running, with the heater on," he  told 7NEWS.  "A happy ending."

The self-described naturalist and humorist goes to schools all over the country to educate students  about animals that would give a lot of people the creeps.

Rakoci was in Englewood Colo., on Wednesday, scheduled to do shows for about 800 school kids. He left his 1999 Suburban parked at a Walmart with the engine running so the animals could stay warm. He usually locks it with a remote, he said, but thief somehow found a way to make off with the truck.

"It's pretty heart wrenching," Rakoci said. It's especially tough because one of those reptiles has a special place in Phil's heart.

About seven years ago, someone dropped off an African Spurred tortoise on Phil's doorstep. He was missing part of one of his front legs, and the other front leg was gone. Phil named him Stumpy, and even attached a wheel to his shell so the tortise could get around.


Now, Stumpy is the star of Phil's traveling show. "He's pretty friendly for a tortoise," Phil said. "He loves people."

In fact, Stumpy has no trouble coming out of his shell even when surrounded by dozens of curious kids enticing him with juicy lettuce.

When they went missing, Phil said he didn't really care about the Suburban. He was just disappointed the school kids won't get a chance to learn about the environment, and he really hoped someone would bring the animals back.

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