Meridian Industrial

RIVERSIDE REPTILES

5/31/2020 | KEITH O’CONNOR

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It’s more like alligators, lizards and snakes at the Riverside Reptiles Education Center, a new kind of zoo set to open in June, hopefully, in Enfield.

The brainchild and longtime hope of owner Brian Kleinman, the center will have about 13,000 square-feet of space housing over 100 species of amphibians, reptiles and invertebrates.

Kleinman’s hope is to give children, and adults alike, the same opportunity hrough his new education center, as well as to continue outreach experiences he began to offer as part of his Riverside Reptiles started in 2003.

Like many businesses during the coronavirus epidemic, Kleinman has felt the pinch, delaying the opening of his dream education center and putting a temporary halt to his outreach business.

“I still have some bookings for the summer, but pretty much all of my school and library programs have stopped for the year because of the virus,” he said.

As a child, Kleinman had no fear of nature and what might lurk in the dark woods, murky swamps, or cleaner ponds behind his home in the rural town of Barkamsted in Connecticut. While out exploring he would come upon snakes, frogs, turtles and other creatures, only to gather them up and bring them home.

His parents were “pretty much” unphased.

“They knew I was interested in nature and wildlife and wanted me to do something that piqued my interest. They were very supportive of me and would take me hiking and to the local nature center,” Kleinman said.

“Of course, I would always return them to the wild, but first I would give presentations in my garage to the neighborhood kids,” he added.

His interest in wildlife led his parents to enroll their son in Roaring Brook Nature Center’s (RBNC) summer camp program. When he was too old to be camper, he volunteered his services at the nature center after school and on weekends, as well as serving as a camp counselor in the summer.

“You get to pass your knowledge about the Earth and its ecosystems onto others. We have to create new ambassadors for wildlife, and that’s why I enjoy teaching children and adults about natural history,” Kleinman said.

It was only natural that when the nature lover attended college he would further pursue his interest in the great outdoors and its many creatures by studying biology at Franklin Pierce University. As part of his education there, he spent a two-week stay in Costa Rica, where he studied tropical ecology while living in the rainforest.

Outside of college, he has also traveled to Georgia to study Loggerhead Sea Turtles and spent three months in Florida exploring the Everglades.

“Living in the rainforest was a great experience. I’ve been back there with my wife where we hung out for nine days. I love it there and enjoy any chance I get to go back. It’s not the Marriott, but there are lodges and cabins which aren’t horrible, but have no air conditioning in very hot and humid weather. You often find animals like geckos and lizards inside on the walls. One night when I went out in the forest for a walk looking for snakes, I came back to find that my wife had barricaded the bathroom where there was a giant cockroach,” Kleinman said.

After graduating from college, Kleinman continued as a counselor at the summer programs at Roaring Brook, and found a job as the animal curator at the Science Center of Connecticut (SCOC), now called the Children’s Museum. For just over two years in the position, he built habitats, fed and cared for the animals, and taught children about the animals that resided there.

Eventually, Kleinman decided to branch out and start his own live animal educational program business in 2004 called Riverside Reptiles, visiting schools, libraries, day cares, camps, fairs, museums, nature centers, and even birthday parties to teach children and adults about the misunderstood creatures of the animal world - reptiles. and amphibians.

When sharing his large collection of salamanders, frogs and toads, crocodilians, turtles, lizards, snakes, cockroaches, spiders, scorpions, centipedes, and millipedes with kids, he said most seem to like the snakes.

“I have some very large snakes weighing up to 100 pounds, including a Burmese Python, Reticulated Python and a Green Anaconda.

But it is the furry tarantula spider that scares kids the most.

“Some kids get startled and even cry, but when they actually see how nice it is then they want to learn more,” Kleinman said.

Kleinman said he has lost thousands of dollars of outreach business due to the coronavirus pandemic, as well as from the delay in opening his new education center. To offset his loss, he is offering animal sponorships on the center’s new website, alongside money-saving memberships.

For more information, call Riverside Reptiles at (860) 655-7464,visit riversidereptileseducationcenter.com, or follow them on Facebook

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