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I first developed an interest in snakes while growing up outside of Williamsport, PA. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, my grandmother and grandfather were caretakers of Dunwoody Big Bear Fish and Game Club and my grandfather would frequently catch timber rattlesnakes and display them in a cage throughout the summer, releasing them in the fall to hibernate. I used to read about exotic snakes and living just a few miles from Reptiland, a specialized zoo founded by reptile legend Clyde Peeling, had always envisioned a career in herpetology. After 2nd grade I purchased my first pet boa constrictor which, I had until I was a junior in high school. It was also in elementary school that I first read about the mythological bushmaster snake, the world's largest pit-viper, in a snake book I ordered through our school book club.

Prior to my freshman year at Penn State, I realized that most of the wildlife programs at PSU, were geared towards managing game herds for sport hunters. This was not my cup of tea. Also, I soon realized that zoo careers did not pay terribly well, therefore I simply decided to pursue a degree in the most difficult major I could find at Penn State, so I pursued a degree in Nuclear Engineering. Upon graduation from Penn State, I accepted an employment positon in the nuclear field and relocated to Upstate New York. By mere coincidence, Reptiland, had opened a satellite facility in Catskill, NY so I worked there for 4 years on weekends. This gave me experience with crocodilians, as well as a few other exotic species, such as cobras, but my real passion was and has always been neo-tropical pit-vipers. In the mid-1990's, while watching Discovery's "Ultimate Guide to Snakes" I became aware of a bushmaster breeder in North Carolina and quickly became friends with Dean Ripa of the Cape Fear Serpentarium in Wilmington, NC and developed not only an interest in these great serpents, but also a strong interest in tropical ecosystems as well.

Since that time, I have worked with nearly a dozen bushmasters of all 4 species; over 150 Lance-headed pit-vipers (Fer-de-lance) of 8 different species; 3 species of palm pit-vipers as well as over a dozen different species of rattlesnake. In addition, I have traveled to Africa, Central and South America on herp/mountaineering trips and with Ken Barnett, regularly take groups herping to Costa Rica's Corcovado National Park- considered by many to be the "Most Biologically diverse place on earth".

Photo by Erik Keyster


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