Q and A with zoologist Ed Laquidara
The Towerlight interviewed Ed Laquidara, who has a Ph.D in Zoology, after he shared his exotic animals with students at TU After Hours Friday night.
How did you become interested in caring for exotic animals?
I grew up in Massachusetts, I grew up a swamp rat. There were swamps behind my house and a lake across the street. I grew up with the neighborhood kids playing with turtles and snakes. Then as I got older they were still exciting but a little boring so I became interested in alligators and stuff like that. Back then the laws were a lot more lenient so you could buy a monkey at the store for $20 or alligators and crocodiles for nothing at your local pet store. But then as the laws changed I just had a gift for science in school. It came really easy to me. I had super cool teachers that knew I was a hands-on kind of person. My high school science teacher did all of my tests and everything based on the animal collection that I had. So I just had good teachers to help me through that. Then as I got older, I got offered more scholarships for free education. It just opened up the doors for… well I work for myself but I’ve gotten a ton of job offers from zoos all over the world. I would never want to work for anyone I don’t think but if you want to, you have to have the education. Like here, this school is pretty relaxed always but a lot of the colleges hire me for subject specific lectures. I have a degree in business as well. So I do conservation and economics. I specialize in animal taxonomy, so animal classification I specialize in. So a lot of colleges hire me for subject specific lecture. So even though I specialize in animal classification, without the degree, you’re not taken as seriously. But yeah, I just think animals are super cool. They’re just like kids. I have six kids and three grandkids.
What is your set up when you’re not on the road?
I stay in New England a lot. I do a bunch of colleges because it helps fund the animals, but I’m really kind of a homebody. But [at home] we are fully licensed state and federal. The federal government considers us a zoo and the state considers us a science and rescue center. So I have what used to be a warehouse, and it took me two years to convert that into a home. Then there’s a 15-foot breezeway with steel doors. Then when you walk through that, through the breezeway, into our animal building. We have three buildings set up. We have a new one opening in two weeks, it’s a reptile house. We’re on a few acres of land and we’re open year round to the public, indoor and outdoor. We’re 100 percent self-funded so we don’t get any government grants. We have a donation jar when people come in so if they feel moved enough to give us some money for an exhibit. Right now we’ve been doing fundraisers for this reptile house so that will give more room for our mammals.
What types of animals do you have?
I have about 35 alligators, I have Nile crocodiles, different turtles and tortoises. I’m sort of a turtle and tortoise freak, I have skunks, chinchillas, ferrets, wallabies, porcupines, woodchucks, parrots, koalas. Let’s see, my newest bird is a big crane, East African crowned crane. I have kinkajous, I have sugar gliders. I have the rare Asian Palm civet, the one that poops coffee beans, the expensive coffee. Then in the next room I have lemurs. I have a pair of Chinese alligators that was given to me by the late doctor John Baylor from the Bronx Zoo. I have many different species of lizard, probably 50 or 60. Then I have snakes from smaller to probably one of the biggest snakes in the country, [about] 23 feet and 285 pounds right now. So all kinds of snakes. Then outside I have red fox. I have African serval, bush baby, goats, chickens, ducks. I have a sheep we took in. Every day something gets dropped off, literally seven days a week. Two thousand animals every year get left on my property or I get called to get them. Over the last couple years unfortunately there’s been a lot of people losing their jobs, people have moved out of their apartments and left their animals behind. Then we go and we take all the animals. That’s sad. I’ve had people call me, crying, saying ‘I lived at this address, in this apartment, and I had to leave and I have no money.’ It’s really sad. I think 99.9 percent of people who keep exotic animals do a great job. Every industry has their bone-heads, but I think it just gets exploited a lot because people have such a love for animals.
What’s been your craziest story on the road with all these animals?
We have a lot of crazy stories on the road. Probably one of the funniest stories is last year I was up in Maine and I had one of these 8-foot alligators, “Big Al.” It was unseasonably warm and the alligators can handle freezing temperatures. We had them in the hotel, but I said let’s put them in the van for the night. We put him in this big, giant alligator bag and he feels safe in there, he never moves. My friend who was with me had just fallen asleep, it’s like 1 or so in the morning. Then the front desk calls and says ‘Your hazard lights are on.’ So I went out and checked and there’s a cop there, he’s got his flashlight, the lights are on. It turns out the alligator had climbed up, across my dash, and hit my hazard lights, and hit the window. The car was off, but even when you hit the window it’ll go down a little bit. So I had all my permits, but the cop was freaked out there was an alligator in Maine. So I said ‘I have all my permits,’ and he says, ‘Oh no, I don’t care about that. Let me hold him and take a picture for my son, he’s never going to believe this.’ So I spend a half hour at 1 a.m. in the morning doing an animal show. So that was a crazy story. But I’ve never had anybody get hurt or an animal get hurt. But things escape.
–Compiled by Megan Flannery