Q&A: Richard Hahn
Director, Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo
Tell us how you became involved in this career.
I have always had animals in my life. Slugs and bees when I was 6, pigeons and rabbits when I was 7, salamanders and garter snakes when I was 8, golden eagle, raccoons, skunks, crow and copperheads in my teen years. I graduated from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., as a biology major with a minor in teaching.
Can you give a brief history of the zoo?
In 1966, I was made aware of a small reptile exhibit in Frederick County that was available. I naively thought, “Wow, I can teach school in the winter and run the Jungleland Snake Farm in the summer. Cool!” The Snake Farm was founded by Gordon Gaver in 1933. He operated it seasonally until his death in 1964. Through the years, the collection and acreage have grown to more than 1,000 animals and 75 acres. We are still known for being one of the top five reptile collections in the country and also have some of the rarest animals in the world including the Booted or Ochreata macaques, found only in our preserve and in Indonesia.
Why is it important to have zoos?
Zoological parks and nature preserves will be the last bastions of refuge for most of the wild animal species now roaming the Earth. Zoos are the only place that people the world over will ever see the diversity of living animals. Even most of those who live in the great wilderness areas are totally ignorant of the animals from their own country, much less another continent.
What would you like to be the “take-away” that visitors have after visiting your zoo?
Our mission is to bring people and animals closer together. If we succeed in this and are able to elicit actions in people that make them more informed about and more protective and supportive of wild animals and wild places, we have done our job. I would also like our guests to recognize the value that the preserve adds to the community and encourage their friends to visit and/or financially support our efforts.
What are some future plans for the facility?
Last year, we added a wonderful reticulated giraffe, an Amur leopard, a snow Leopard and an Andean Condor to our list of zoo “stars.” This year we are concentrating on renovating our safari (Sandy did a job on us) and improving exhibits for our pheasants, meerkats and sun bears. We are also developing entirely new exhibits in our North American Small Animal Pavilion for living endangered and rare turtles and tortoises.
What are some education and conservation programs you are involved with outside the zoo?
As a national leader in the husbandry and exhibition of reptiles, we organized and held the first ever Seminar on Venomous Animal Safety and Husbandry for professional herpetoculturists. Additionally we support conservation efforts in Costa Rica and participate in cooperative breeding programs with 10 other zoological facilities including the San Diego Zoo.
We know you probably don’t want to play favorites, but do you have an animal that you think is particularly delightful or interesting?
This is the hardest question of all. I enjoy the beauty of the reptiles and humanoid antics of the monkeys, but I have to say that Rocket, our giraffe, is the real heart breaker. Even from afar, he’s impressive but when you get up close his gentleness and nonchalant attitude are remarkable. I can run my hands over his body—at least the bottom half—and pat him all over and he pays no more attention than if I were a fly.