The reptile house will also be home to a Taipan, the world’s most venomous snake.
“There’s not very many reptile facilities in this area,” said Rick de Ridder, owner of the Emerald Coast Zoo. “I think that’s what this area needs, is more education on what snakes are.”
Known as Rick the Reptile Guy, a nickname given to him by the late Steve Irwin, de Ridder has entertained and educated millions on television by starring in the A&E series “Wild Transport.” He hopes that this new addition to the Emerald Coast Zoo will continue to educate and inspire the community about reptiles.
“The goal is to educate the public about how cool reptiles are, that they’re not these big, scary creatures,” de Ridder said. He added that the reptile house was designed with an open entrance so that people can walk into or near the enclosure without feeling trapped.
“I try to make a pretty big deal of not scaring people with reptiles but showing them how cool they are,” de Ridder said.
The Emerald Coast Zoo is currently home to crocodiles, alligators, monitors, snakes and other reptiles. The zoo is also home to Gertie, a tortious who weights over 600 pound and is 109 years old.
“We want to get Guinness World Records out here, I might have a record-breaking tortoise,” de Ridder said. “I also hope that I will have a record-breaking snake that’s over 20 feet long and over 300 pounds, and the biggest croc monitors in the U.S.”
De Ridder, an avid collector of reptiles, has reptiles in care all across the United States. The reptile house will bring some of his collection to Crestview.
Since taking ownership of the Emerald Coast Zoo in 2017, de Ridder has overseen growth and improvement of the facility. This includes adding bigger and better enclosures to house the animals.
“You get closer to the animals than most places, I think that’s what separates us a bit,” de Ridder said. “We do a lot of encounters with different animals. We live here, it’s like they’re all our family members.”
Like many organizations and businesses, the Emerald Coast Zoo has struggled to find the skilled labor to construct the reptile house. With the help of his son, de Ridder hopes that this reptile facility will be among the best in the world.
“I’m pretty sure I can change anybody’s mind to make them maybe not love reptiles as much as I do, but not fear them anymore,” de Ridder said.
Although the reptile house is currently under construction, no opening date has been set. Still, de Ridder is excited to bring this new addition of the Emerald Coast Zoo to the people of northwest Florida.
“I hope that people will take away that God created these awesome creatures and that you can learn a lot from these reptiles,” de Ridder said. “They’re not these scary critters that people are afraid of.”
The Emerald Coast Zoo is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information about the zoo, call (850) 682-3949 or visit emeraldcoastzoo.com.