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It’s not just a shell game to him

Citizen Staff Writer



The sun and the mountains may lure many a soul to Tucson. But Jim Jarchow came for the tortoises.

“Reptiles drew me here,” said the Ohio native and longtime vet who landed in Tucson in 1972. “I like the desert, too.”

Jarchow, 62, is definitely living his dream career – although as a boy he would not have predicted it.

“My mom always checked my pockets for toads, stuff like that,” he said, “but I was not one of those kids who said I wanted to grow up and be a veterinarian.”

He found his passion for helping animals when he was working at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. He went on to attend the College of Veterinary Medicine at Ohio State University, then made his way to Tucson.

Jarchow has spent 14 of his past 37 years as a reptile vet practicing at Orange Grove Animal Hospital, 3091 W. Orange Grove Road.

He is also the consulting vet for reptiles and amphibians at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a vet with the Reid Park Zoo, author of a chapter in the book, “Sonoran Desert Tortoise,” and the father of four adult children as well as, at the moment, 16 tortoises.

Yes, he takes his work home with him. No, his wife Linda, 52, a receptionist at Jarchow’s clinic, doesn’t mind.

Jarchow was a pioneer of reptile medicine. People used to come from across the country to seek his expertise.

While the field has grown immensely – ensuring he no longer has to make tortoise calls in Phoenix – Jarchow continues to make his mark in the field.

His innovative method of treating the most common tortoise ailment, a respiratory infection called Mycoplasmosis, has made him famous in the field.

The treatment consists of flushing out the nasal cavity with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs.

“It’s very effective in the majority of cases,” he said, citing an 80 percent success rate.

Jarchow’s backyard is set up as a tortoise habitat, complete with native plants that provide shelter and food. His Australian shepherd heartily guards the flock.

That’s not always the case.

The second most common tortoise ailment is injuries from a family dog.

“We treat tortoises for lost legs and severe shell injuries,” Jarchow said. “To the dogs, they’re chew toys.”

Wild tortoises, too, often end up mauled by domestic canines. Wild predators know enough not to try to chew the shell, instead going right for the fleshy parts.

One of the worst cases Jarchow’s ever seen was not from a dog, but a large tortoise that was run over by a city bus.

“A motorist behind the bus picked up the tortoise and shell pieces and brought them in,” he said.

Jarchow wired, glued and affixed the pieces back together using a 5-minute epoxy.

“We called the tortoise Elmer,” he said, in honor of all the glue he used.

Inadequate diets rate No. 3 on the list of tortoise ailments, but Jarchow’s on a mission to educate.

If folks want a pet tortoise, he urges them to contact the Desert Museum or the Arizona Game & Fish Department, both of which have adoption programs.

“Taking one out of the desert leaves a big vacancy that lasts for a long time,” he said, “almost like chopping down a saguaro.”

Tortoises are also protected by Arizona state law, making it illegal to nab one from its natural habitat.

“People really need to be aware of the the reptiles and amphibians that live in our area and, above all, appreciate their presence,” Jarchow said.

It’s not just a shell game to him: Tucson vet treasures, heals desert tortoises

‘People really need to be aware of the the reptiles and amphibians that live in our area and, above all, appreciate their presence.’



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