In Greek language herpein means to creep, and herpeton means a creeping animal or a reptile. Herpetologist is similarly derived from the root herpein and means a zoologist specializing in reptiles and amphibians. Herpetology is the branch of zoology dealing with reptiles and amphibians. There are more than 9000 species of reptiles and more than 6,700 species of amphibians. Many herpetologists had been interested predominantly in crocodiles and snakes. Notable herpetologists include Mark O’Shea, Philip Purser, Steve Irwin (popularly known as the “Crocodile Hunter”), and the star Austin Stevens (popularly known as ‘Austin Snakeman’ on account of his performance in the famous TV series Austin Stevens: Snakemaster). Crocodiles are the oldest living predators and they have survived very turbulent times in the history of evolution. Experts opine that crocodiles have been living on Earth for the past 100 million years and they have survived innumerable natural disasters.
1. Stephen Robert Irwin
Stephen Robert Irwin was born on February 22, 1962, to Lynn and Bob Irwin in Essendon, a suburb of Melbourne in Victoria, Australia. He died in a stingray accident on September 4, 2006 at the age of 44 years, at Batt Reef, Queensland in Australia. He was a famous herpetologist and conservationist, and a very popular television personality. He came into prominence after co-hosting, along with his wife Terri, a television series The Crocodile Hunter. The couple also owned the Australia Zoo, founded by Irwin’s parents. The zoo is located at about 80 kilometers from Brisbane, the capital of Queensland. While filming a documentary, Ocean’s Deadliest, Irwin was fatally hurt by the sting of a stingray in his chest. A ship of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society was named MY Steve Irwin in his honor. The Australian Government awarded him the Centenary Medal for his ‘service to global conservation and to Australian tourism’. In 2004, he was nominated for Australian of the Year. A new species of turtle discovered by him was named Elseya irwini, while a land snail was named Crikey steveirwini in his honor.
2. William E. Haast
William E. Haast, better known as Bill Haast, was born on December 30, 1910 in Paterson, New Jersey and died on June 15, 2011. He was director of a snake house near Putna Gorda in Florida. He used to extract venom from venomous snakes while he only twelve years old. At the age of 11 years he was bitten by a timber rattler snake for the first time. In all he was bitten by snakes 172 times in his career. During World War II, he served as a flight engineer on Pan Am airliners and used to buy snakes from Africa and India; he brought the first cobra into America. He commented, ‘In those days there were no laws prohibiting it, but the crew members didn’t appreciate it’. He made a serpentarium and by 1965 used to extract venom from sixty species of snakes at an average sixty times daily. He performed the venom extraction live, in the presence of an audience.
3. Brady Barr
Brady Barr is a famous herpetologist, best known for hosting Nat Geo Wild’s show Dangerous Encounters with Brady Barr. He is also known for holding the record of capturing 3000 crocodiles in his fifteen-year career. He earned his PhD from Indiana University and is considered the first herpetologist to have captured all the 23 existing species of crocodiles in his career. Many times in his career he has been hurt very badly during his dangerous encounters with the reptiles. In 2007, he was bitten by a four-meter reticulated python, while filming in Indonesia for an episode of Dangerous Encounters.
4. Grace Olive Wiley
Grace Olive Wiley was born in 1883 and died of a snakebite on July 20, 1948, while she was posing for a photographer. She was a famous American herpetologist. She started her career as an entomologist but later developed an interest in reptiles. She was the first person to breed rattlesnakes in captivity. She worked as a curator at Minneapolis, which had a large collection of reptiles and amphibians. For a woman to be a curator of reptiles was very unusual in her time; therefore she was known as a ‘woman without fear’. She said ‘The fear of snakes is cultivated. We are not born with it. Children love snakes as naturally as they love dogs and cats. Don’t be afraid of a reptile’s tongue. The only animal that can hurt you with its tongue is the human being’.
5. Alexander Mikhailovich Nikolsky
Alexander Mikhailovich Nikolsky was born on February 18, 1858 and died on December 8, 1942. He received his PhD from University of St. Petersburg. Later on he became the director of the herpetology department of the zoological museum of the Academy of Sciences. He participated in many expeditions in Persia, Caucasus, and Japan. He was elected a member of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. He has authored Herpetologia Caucasica and Fauna of Russia and Adjacent Countries.
6. Jacques Vladimir von Bedriaga
Jacques Vladimir von Bedriaga was born in 1854 and died in 1906 in Florence. He was educated at Moscow University and the University of Gena in Germany. He received his doctorate after writing his thesis on the urogenital organs of reptiles. One of his important works is on Greek herpetology, titled Die Amphibien und Reptilien Griechenlands. A few reptile species were named after him, including Bedriaga’s Fringe-fingered Lizard, Bedriaga’s Skink, Ana bedriagae frog, and Bedriaga’s Rock Lizard.
7. Mark O’Shea
Mark O’Shea, from Wolver Hampton, was born in 1956. He is a well-known herpetologist and author and a popular television personality. He is known internationally for presenting O’Shea’s Big Adventures on Animal Planet or Discovery Channel. His films comprised of four series. Prior to making O’Shea’s Big Adventures, he had made Giant Snake in Venezuela and Black Mamba in South Africa. During his career, he has been bitten several times by dangerous reptiles. In 1970, he was bitten by a canebrake rattle snake. The bite was life-threatening and he could recover only with difficulty.
8. Austin Stevens
Austin Stevens was born on May 19, 1950 in Pretoria, South Africa. He is a well-known herpetologist, author, and wildlife photographer. He developed an interest in snakes at a young age and collected some very rare and venomous species of snakes. To become a qualified herpetologist, he served for six years as curator of reptiles at Transvaal Snake Park of South Africa. To generate funds for the cause of animal protection, he set a record of spending 107 days in a cage with 36 of the most venomous snakes in Africa. On the 96th day, he was bitten by a cobra but refused to leave the cage and was treated in the cage. He beat the existing Guinness World Record, documented in the Guinness Book of Animal Records.
9. Raymond Lee Ditmars
Raymond Lee Ditmars was born on June 22, 1876 in Newark, New Jersey and died on May 12, 1942 in New York. He was a famous American herpetologist. Like many other famous herpetologists, he too started taking an interest in reptiles at the age of twelve years. He started his career as a herpetologist when he started working as an assistant conservationist in charge of reptiles at zoological park in Bronx, in July 1899. His notable publications include Strange Animals I Have Known, Confessions of a Scientist, Thrills of a Naturalist’s Quest, and Snakes of the World. A street in the borough of Queens in New York was named Ditmars Boulevard in his honor, after his death.
10. Jenny Daltry
Jenny Daltry started taking an interest in reptiles at the age of eight years. At the age of eleven years she became a member of the Fauna and Flora Preservation Society. She worked in her teens as a volunteer in zoos. At the age of 25, she earned her PhD from the University of Aberdeen for her work on venomous snakes in Southeast Asia. She has played a leading role in saving the rarest species of snakes, the Antiguan racer. She has worked in many countries and the Royal Government of Cambodia awarded her a knighthood.
Herpetologists’ study of Gustave, a large male Nile crocodile living in the Ruzzizi River and on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, verifies the theory of the survival of the fittest. More than 60 years old and longer than 18 feet, the crocodile, named Gustave by the herpetologist Patrice Faye, is notoriously known for having eaten more than 300 people. Many attempts to trap him failed on account of his sharp sixth sense, and many bullets fired upon him failed to kill him, leaving only scars on his skin. The documentary Capturing the Killer Croc, reflects upon the life of a herpetologist, Patrice Faye and the crocodile Gustave.