ALLENWOOD - Clyde Peeling is living out his dream, by owning a small niche zoo dedicated to reptiles and amphibians.
Clyde Peeling's Reptiland, located at 18628 US Route 15 in Allenwood, is a destination for children and adults to see and learn about reptiles and amphibians.
People can also shop in Natural Selections, the zoo's gift shop, or have lunch at Crocodile Creek Cafe, which serves items such as sandwiches and pizza.
Clyde Peeling owner of Reptiland peers into a habitat of one of the many reptiles at Reptiland.
"It was sort of a boyhood dream to build my own zoo," Peeling said.
Peeling created it after he worked for a small zoo of the same name as a teenager.
After Peeling got out of the Air-Force in 1964, the owner of the zoo he worked for had lost the location. So Peeling asked the owner if he could keep the name and then began his own zoo.
Clyde Peeling's Reptiland
18628 US Route 15
Allenwood, PA 17810
Rates: $10 for adults
$8 for children 4 to 11
children under 4 are free
"In those days, Disneyland was relatively new and it seemed like a good name," Peeling said. "In retrospect, the name has probably made it more difficult for us to overcome the stigma that we are somehow a traditional roadside zoo."
The small zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which means it gets scrutinized by peers in the zoo community, and after passing a rigid examination, offered accreditation.
"They look at everything from finances, to animal care to visitor services," Peeling said. "You name it and they look at it."
Peeling said he became interested in reptiles and amphibians when he was in middle school, and kept that interest into high school.
"I knew that I wanted to do something with them (reptiles and amphibians) for the rest of my life," Peeling said.
Peeling said that many people discouraged him to start a zoo, but he just kept at it and knew that he could be successful with it.
"I think I succeeded sometimes in spite of myself, through sheer determination," Peeling said. "I just never quit."
Peeling said many families and schools visit Reptiland and that about 50,000 people per year visit Reptiland.
Peeling said the allure of Reptiland has really changed.
"When I started, a significant number of people who came to Reptiland were fascinated by reptiles, especially because they feared them," Peeling said. "But their fear was somehow overshadowed by their curiosity."
But that has changed, according to Peeling.
"Animal programming on PBS, Animal Planet and the Discovery channel have fostered a growing fascination for reptiles," he said. "It used to be I heard nothing but 'I can't stand snakes' and I hear a lot less of that now."
Peeling Productions is the exhibit arm of Clyde Peeling's Reptiland.
That arm of the company creates traveling exhibits that are used in museums, science centers, zoological parks and other institutions that use changing exhibits to increase attendance and further people's knowledge.
Reptiland also has multiple traveling exhibits that are located throughout the country.
They are fabricated in house and then shipped to cities around the country.
After the exhibits are installed at a host museum, Peeling delivers the amphibians and reptiles via private plane.
Peeling explained that Reptiland's fabrication department builds exhibits on site and Reptiland provides the animals and a keeper for each of the exhibits.
"We own a gecko exhibit which is currently traveling under the Geico Insurance label and it is in St. Louis Missouri," Peeling said.
Peeling said another, and much larger, gecko exhibit is being set up in Reading, California. "We also have a reptile exhibit which is in Miami," he said.
The company has two frog exhibits, one in Baltimore and another in Ft. Lauderdale.
Because the Peeling's exhibitions travel throughout the county, Peeling said that other institutions have asked the company to create habitats for them.
"Our niche is creating micro-habitats, for amphibians and reptiles," he said. "We are currently dealing with the state of Delaware to do a major project for a state park."
Peeling said that they have done jobs for various zoos and institutions throughout the country. "Our fabrication outfit not only to builds our own exhibits but for others as well."
Reptiland has a gift shop, called the Natural Selections, that is managed by Peeling's daughter in law Chris Peeling and features collectibles, plush, toys, games, masks and even jewelry for people who visit Reptiland to take home with them. "I don't know any zoo that has a better gift shop than we do," Peeling said. "It's small but the selection is outstanding."
Peeling said that one of the more fun parts of the business includes running one or two safaris per year to either East Africa or the Amazon Basin of South America.
"In February, I am leading a group to the Galapagos Islands," he said.
Peeling said people are very interested in hearing about animals and he conveys information about them in an informal way.
Peeling said that sometimes he runs safaris for friends and family too.
Flashlight Safari is an educational Halloween adventure and helps children learn how nocturnal animals survive in darkness.
Participants should bring a flashlight to see more than forty species of reptiles and amphibians in the comfort of an indoor exhibit complex.
Many animals only become active after dark and this is a chance to peek in on their night lives.
People can also visit the outdoor pumpkin patch full of carved pumpkins and touch live animals - including giant cockroaches. Special live shows feature a great horned owl, giant fruit bat, Norway rat, scorpion, alligator and rattlesnake.
Dates: Oct. 17, 18, and 19, Friday night 6-9 p.m. live shows at 6, 7, & 8 p.m., Saturday night 6 to 9 p.m. live shows at 6, 7, and 8 p.m., Sunday night 5 to 8 p.m. live shows at 5, 6, and 7 p.m.
This event costs $10 for adults and children 4 and up.