By Ashley Wislock
The Daily Item
ALLENWOOD — Clyde Peeling has loved cold-blooded animals his whole life.
“I think I became interested in reptiles through Scouting,” he said.
In his book, “Reptiland: How a Boyhood Dream Became a Modern Zoo,” Peeling describes how on camping trips he and his fellow Scouts would catch crawfish, turtles, hellbenders and water snakes, and how he met others who shared his interest in the creatures during troop trips and programs.
The love that started at that young age created Clyde Peeling’s Reptiland, which is now celebrating its 50th anniversary.
“Time really does pass quickly,” he said. “(This anniversary) means the realization of a boyhood dream. It’s something I always wanted to do from the time I was about 12 years old.”
Peeling opened the current Reptiland on July 11, 1964, and on July 11, there will be a special celebration — called “Cheers to 50 years” — to mark the anniversary. The event will be held from 7:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. and feature animal encounters, local wine and beer tastings, live music and other special features.
The zoo will also be hosting daylong special events throughout the summer to celebrate, including Dino Day on June 17, “Buggin Out,” on July 22 and a Reptiland Safari on Aug. 12.
The idea for Reptiland began when Peeling worked at a smaller attraction operated by a man from Texas called Reptiland along Route 15.
Peeling saw the potential in the idea for a zoo dedicated to reptiles and after leaving the military in 1964, he decided to bring his vision to life.
“I asked him if it would be OK if I kept the name ‘Reptiland’ and he said yes,” Peeling said. “So I picked up where he left off.”
None of the animals from 1964 are still at Reptiland, Peeling said. However, there is a tortoise that started out as a 5-pound baby around 1967 and is now a 350-pound animal, “and still growing,” Peeling said.
Since Reptiland’s opening, public attitudes toward reptiles have also changed, Peeling said.
“It used to be that people had this fear that was overshadowed by curiosity,” he said. “I think now it’s different. People really want to learn something different.”
Peeling said after his 50 years in business he’s not afraid of any reptiles and hasn’t had a serious snakebite since 1961.
“I’ve got a pretty good understanding of the limitations of the animals that we keep,” he said. “I know their behavior and what to expect from them.”
Peeling also said he’s grateful to be living out his dream.
“I look back and I wouldn’t change anything,” he said.