A trade show with bite

Find all things slithery, scaly and cold-blooded at Timonium Fairgrounds Sept. 18-19

September 16, 2010|By Peter Krause, The Baltimore Sun

Tim Hoen loves his reptiles so much, he's written them into his will.

Hoen, the founder of the Mid-Atlantic Reptile Show, owns several turtles, which can live to be 150 years old. If Hoen doesn't hit 150 himself, he wants his pets to be provided for.

"The right reptile can make a person very happy," Hoen said. "They will outlive me, and I want to make sure they are taken care of."

This same passion for pets is present in Hoen's work. The reptile show, which comes to the Maryland State Fairgrounds this weekend, is run by the nonprofit MARS Preservation Fund, which Hoen founded. About 5,000 people will be at this year's show, Hoen estimates, to view, buy and trade reptiles of all stripes, colors and spots.

There's more to this weekend's show than just animals, though. The preservation fund uses all the proceeds to purchase threatened rainforests in Costa Rica. Since the show started in the early 1990s, the fund has helped protect about 3,000 acres of rainforest. Hoen has said he chose Costa Rica because of the country's stable government and commitment to eco-tourism.

"There really is nothing else like it," Hoen said. "There are a lot of reptile shows out there, but I want to be as responsible as possible."

The response to the show varies from year to year; the largest one brought in about 10,000 people, Hoen said. In addition to reptile displays from vendors, the show has reptile-themed books, artwork and souvenirs, as well as supplies and care information.

Hoen's attachment and devotion to caring for reptiles is not uncommon among his fellow aficionados.

"Although you may buy or breed them, having reptiles is not like having a car," said Larry Kenton, who runs the Maryland Reptile Farm in Wellsville, Pa. "You have to feed and care for a snake; it does not just sit there."

Kenton, who hosts four reptile shows in Maryland and Virginia, has been involved with the Mid-Atlantic Reptile Show as a vendor and helper since its beginnings. He has also known Hoen for decades, he said. Kenton organizes the All-Maryland Reptile Show in Havre De Grace every month except September (so as not to conflict with the Mid-Atlantic Reptile Show).

The show starts with a social, with food and drinks provided by Reptiles Magazine. There, attendees can meet and mingle with fellow enthusiasts. Afterward, the nearby Holiday Inn in Timonium will have a free lecture series run by the reptile advocacy group International Amphibian Days. The two speakers will be Robert Hill, amphibian specialist at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, and Evan Twomey, ecology expert and a doctoral student.

The MARS Preservation Fund Auction to benefit Rainforest Conservation, which will be hosted by guest auctioneers The Limey Bastard and Jeff Galewood, is set for Saturday. Hoen works with the National Aquarium in Baltimore, the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, veterinarians and even the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Police to make sure the animals are treated properly and kept healthy at the show.

"The real purpose of the show is to secure land in Costa Rica from development, but we are doing great things here, too," Hoen said.

If you go

The Mid-Atlantic Reptile Show is 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Maryland State Fairgrounds, 2200 York Road in Timonium. Admission is $9, and $7 for seniors and children 6-12, and free for children younger than 5. Call 410-557-6879 or go to midatlanticreptileshow.org.

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