The Kentucky Reptile Zoo is a non-profit organization which was founded in 1990 by director Jim Harrison. Renting out an old restaurant building in the tourist town of Slade, Kentucky, Jim Harrison converted the place into an exhibit area for people to view some of the world's most venomous snakes. A path around the building led to an outdoor area which exhibited American alligators and turtles. Using personal funds to open the zoo, Harrison single-handedly conducted reptile shows, worked the register, and cared for the animals for the first few years. Jim worked hard to establish KRZ, formerly known as Miami Valley Serpentarium, as a credible, honest institution where visitors could learn about and view native and exotic reptiles. The focus of KRZ expanded when a venom extraction lab was built in 1995 in order to extract venom for pharmaceutical research and the production of antivenin.
As time went by, an internship program was established, allowing college students to work with and learn about reptiles. The interns provide greatly appreciated help, especially during the summer months when schedules become busy. Interns gain an invaluable experience working closely with reptiles, specifically snakes, at an institution where the animals' care and conservation is the primary concern.
Another element of student education at KRZ involves an exchange program with the University of Brasilia in Brasilia, Brazil. Several Brazilian students have studied with Jim in past years learning about the venoms, including a more scientific aspect of their composition and effect on humans. The partnership between the Kentucky Reptile Zoo and the University began in 1997 with a behavioral research trip to Brazil. The crew from KRZ studied Crotalus durrisus terrificus. Jim Harrison gave lectures at the University and ideas concerning behavior were exchanged.
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