Slither into the show

Annual reptile expo arrives this weekend at state fairgrounds

September 18, 2004|By Kevin T. McVey | Kevin T. McVey,SUN STAFF

Snakes, iguanas, bearded dragons and many other reptiles will take control of the 4-H Building at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium this weekend as the MARS Preservation Fund Inc. holds its 12th annual Mid-Atlantic Reptile Show today and tomorrow.

The show's hours are 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. today and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. tomorrow. Daily admission is $7, $6 for ages 6 to 12 or 65 and over, and free for age 5 and younger.

More than 160 vendors will display, sell and educate people about reptiles.

To Tim Hoen, a researcher at the John Hopkins University biophysics department and founder and president of MARS Preservation Fund, what really matters is the foundation on which he started this show: to make sure the animals are treated correctly.

"When I had the idea for the show, I said that if I was going to do this, I wanted rules for the animals so they would be given humane treatment," Hoen said. "I couldn't run this show unless it was done correctly, and I do have a big problem with selling wild-caught animals," referring to animals that are caught in their natural habitat and then sold at shows. One of Hoen's rules is that all reptiles at the show must have been born in captivity.

Holli Friedland, program director for MARS, and other organizers have prepared since Wednesday for the show, the proceeds of which will go to the purchase of rain forest land in Costa Rica, Friedland said.

"We picked Costa Rica because they do have a really stable government," Friedland said. "And they want to preserve a certain percentage of the rain forest for eco-tourism."

Since the inaugural Mid-Atlantic Reptile Show in 1992, the MARS Preservation Fund has given money to buy more than 2,800 acres in Costa Rica.

The fund also supports the Monteverde Cloud Forest School in Costa Rica, which teaches ecology, and it has lent $1,600 to the University of Florida to help researchers develop a test for inclusion body disease, a blood disease that occurs in snakes such as boas and pythons.

For this weekend's show, some vendors have come from as far as California. Bob Wright, who is recently retired from the Los Angeles County Fire Department, and his wife, Sharon, came from Alta Loma in Southern California.

The Wrights attend 10 shows a year as vendors and have been at the Mid-Atlantic show for nine years. Wright specializes in rosy snakes, which are found primarily in the southwestern United States.

"They're just one of those snakes that everyone likes and even that teachers will have in their classroom," Wright said. "What's nice about them is that they're very docile - and they give live births, which is a big plus."

The Wrights and the other vendors at the show can usually expect to take in anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 in profit over the weekend. Hoen expects about 5,000 people this weekend; about 3,500 people attended the first show.

During the first show in 1992, Hoen and MARS brought in Roger Conant of the University of New Mexico, author of several books on reptiles. Hoen and MARS did not know what to expect, and what they got was a surprise.

"He came and there was a line outside of the door," Hoen said. "It was like having Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner at a Star Trek convention."

Hoen stressed that many reptiles would not be good pets for some of the visitors.

Hoen mentioned Bernadette, his 208-pound Burmese python, which will be on display for the weekend.

"Bernadette is certainly not a good pet, iguanas are not good pets and giant tortoises are not good pets," Hoen said. "If you're just going to buy a reptile here, not ask questions, and then let the animal wither away after it gets too big for your house and let it die, then what's the point in that?"

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