History of the East Texas Herpetological Society
It started with a chance meeting in a west Texas restroom in 1989.
Russ Walker, a teacher with Houston Independent School District’s outdoor education center, and Dr. David Doherty, a Huntsville veterinarian, were snake hunting in Seminole Canyon State Park when they started talking in the restroom. Walker lived in Trinity, near Huntsville. They shared a passion for reptiles and amphibians, and they knew there were others who lived nearby – especially in Houston, two hours south – who had a similar passion.
But there wasn’t a local group to bring these happy herp hobbyists together to share knowledge and network. So David and Russ formed the East Texas Herpetological Society.
The first meeting was March 31, 1989, at the Huntsville Library. They had told other herp enthusiasts they knew, and word of the meeting spread. Although there was a major traffic tie-up on Interstate 45 and a parade in Huntsville before the meeting (and unrelated to the meeting), about 30 people attended to hear Paul Freed, supervisor of the Houston Zoo’s herpetology department, give a presentation about his herpetological expedition to Namibia. Then, they went back to David’s house for cookies and sandwiches while they socialized.
The society’s first newsletter, which came out in May 1989, spelled out the club’s goals:
- Provide an opportunity for camaraderie among anyone interested in reptiles and amphibians through regular meetings
- Provide educational presentations at the meetings
- Promote an understanding and appreciation of reptiles and amphibians among the general public
- Provide a collective knowledge pool for those interested in any aspect of herpetology
- Unite herpers as a “potential lobbying force” to deal with issues concerning the study, conservation, collecting and keeping of reptiles and amphibians
- Provide an outlet for member collectors/breeders to sell, swap and buy legal animals for their collections
But even as David and Russ planned that first meeting, they knew the Huntsville library was a short-term home.
“If we wanted to blossom, we needed to move to Houston,” David said. So, Paul talked to the Houston Zoo director, a herpetologist, who gave the club free access to the George R. Brown education center for bi-monthly meetings. They’ve been meeting there for 22 years since, with just a few meetings elsewhere in the zoo while the education center underwent renovations.