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The Chicago Herpetological Society’s Reptile Fest
The Reptile Report - For the last 20 years, the folks at the Chicago Herpetological Society have given their blood, sweat and tears to the greater good of the reptile community. Each spring the society hosts the largest all educational reptile expo called Reptile Fest. On the surface, it is very much like a normal reptile event, tables upon tables with filled with reptiles. There is one major difference however and that is that no live animals are offered for sale. The clientele is also very different. It is families, scout troops, and people who want to visit a zoo.
This all volunteer event started in the Clarion hotel 20 years ago and slowly over time grew and expanded to the University of Chicago PE Building. At times it almost seems as if we are growing out of that. Our members displayed over 200 species of reptiles and amphibians, both natives and exotics and many of which were hands on encounters.
Our exhibitors are a unique breed. We have the 6 year old girl with her pet anole at one table and holding down several tables are breeders showing off some of their prized animals. This year we had several breeders taking the time to display the wonders of morphs. We have professional educators like The Frog lady and we have first time exhibitors. We have a huge display of the native IL herps and with the assistance and permits of Rob Carmichael from Wildlife Discovery Center, we are also able to display the 4 native venomous snakes of Illinois and some of the more endangered species of the state as well.
USARK made it’s first appearance at the event and the outreach done here was far more important than any other reptile event. President Phil Goss spent his time not signing up members, but rather talking with non-reptile people about the impact of legislation on both the owners of the animals as well as the animals themselves!
There is support from the industry side as well. Zoo Med is our major event sponsor, but folks like Brian Potter from the Chicago Reptile House and NARBC and Chad Gaines from Reptile Emporium get vendor booths and sell dry goods and gifts. Their presence also helps establish a link for possible future reptile owners and future customers.
The event which takes the entire year to plan and 5 days from set up to full tear down reached around 6,000 people, many of which experienced their first encounter with a reptile. They learned why these animals are important to so very many of us and they experienced first hand the wonder and beauty of reptiles and amphibians.
I may be a bit biased since I am the Vice President of the Society, but I personally feel that this was the single most important reptile expo of the year. Reaching out and bringing the general public into our world and our community may very well assist us in future legal battles. A portion of the money raised from the event will go into conservation programs to help ensure these animals have a place in the wild and the rest of the proceeds go into the Society’s operating cost for the next year.
We have an amazing membership who dedicates a lot of time and energy to this event. Does your society do something like this? We would love to hear about your educational efforts at The Reptile Report!