When he was seven years old, my son John spent his days, Huck Finn-style, exploring the small creek that meandered through a wooded glen behind our house near Honeoye Lake. Armed with a minnow bucket or a jar with holes in the lid, he’d proudly return home to show off his latest prized catch, which included bumblebees, grasshoppers, crayfish, frogs, toads, salamanders and the occasional garter snake. He wasn’t allowed to bring any of his critters indoors for fear that they might escape and take up unwanted residence. After a few hours of gentle and inquisitive observation, he’d return them to their original habitats and continue flipping over stones or probing overhanging stream banks in search of his next discovery.
On his own, John would go to the library to look up and study the variety of creatures that he’d captured and he soon became a very young expert on all of them. He was particularly fascinated with dinosaurs and could recite facts and figures about tyrannosaurus rex or any other prehistoric reptile that you could possibly name.
By the time he was in his teens, we had moved to Penfield where our property bordered Ellison Park and Irondequoit Creek. Now John had a much larger and diverse ecosystem to explore and he spent many hours poking around in the woods and cattails. Less inclined to capture wildlife, he simply enjoyed observing the variety of creatures he saw in their natural habitat instead. But he was still captivated the most by amphibians and reptiles.
During his college years, John took a summer job working at the Seneca Park Zoo in Rochester. It wasn’t long before he became enamored with the zoo’s amphibian and reptile collection and he was soon appointed to take charge of their care. Even though his studies were unrelated to his job, after college John returned to Seneca Park Zoo full time where he now works as an Assistant Curator and the Head of Herpetology.
John has become a nationally-recognized expert on the Massasauga Rattlesnake, which inhabits parts of New York State and—as part of the zoo’s conservation program—he’s made several trips to the jungles of Panama to capture and quarantine remnant Panamanian Golden Frogs in a last-ditch effort to prevent the extinction of the species. One of his coworkers recently dubbed him “Johnny Snake Wrangler” in a Facebook post—and to top it all off he’s also a backyard beekeeper as well.
So I wasn’t surprised to see my son on the 6:00 o’clock news one evening last week tightly holding onto a 3-1/2 foot alligator along with the DEC Police officer who confiscated the illegal animal and brought it to the zoo for temporary housing until a legally-permitted home can be found for it. (See the Seneca Park Zoo photo above.) John tells me that both law enforcement and members of the public often bring an array of wild animals to the zoo once the critters have become dangerous or unmanageable—as was the case here—even thought the zoo doesn’t really have the facilities available to house them. While the zoo can’t always accept them, in this case it’s a matter of public safety.