Circa September 1978 : Ernie Wagner has been around practically forever, and he has certainly left his mark on herpetoculture in a positive way! His reputation was already firmly established by the late 1970s when we first met him. We had planned on driving up to the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Washington, where he was curator of the herp collection, to meet him anyway. Our visit was preceded by an incident that might have left a sour taste in his mouth if he'd been less of a great guy!
Just prior to that meeting, our traveling educational herp exhibit, the Living Jungle, was set up in a large shopping mall in Portland, Oregon - as close to Seattle as we had been able to book a show space. During an after-hours feeding one night inside the mall, an employee was accidentally bitten by a large Mexican west coast rattlesnake Crotalus basiliscus that we had on display. We rushed him to the local hospital where they frantically searched for a source of antivenin. With no venomous species in the Portland area, and thus no antivenin in stock, they called the Seattle Zoo, and eventually got Ernie's home number at 1:00 am. He rushed down to the zoo and got their supply so it could be rushed south to Portland via army helicopter.
The bite turned out to be rather mild, with no permanent effects worse than Ernie losing some sleep that night. He was a great host later that week when we got our chance to cut loose and visit him, both at the zoo and at his home. He gave us the grand tour : here was someone literally pushing the cutting edge of herpetoculture! From horned frogs to Gila monsters to dwarf smaugs, Ernie was working with them all, and doing it successfully. He's still at it today, operating Poikilotherm Farms with his wife Darcie Richardson. This shot not only preserved Ernie's image for posterity, it also shows him holding the largest Blair's kingsnake Lampropeltis alterna we've ever seen alive!
Photo by Bill Love.