BALTIMORE – Tim Hoen sees the big picture. When he founded the two-day Mid-Atlantic Reptile Show in 1993, he had a distant country in mind.
“How do you protect animals in the wild? The best way is buy the home they live in,” Hoen says.
Hoen, of Jarrettsville, is a self-taught environmentalist who works as a lab technician at Johns Hopkins University. He launched his show, where captive-bred reptiles are displayed and sold, all in the name of preserving nature: Its profits go toward the purchase of rain forests in Costa Rica.
The fourth annual event takes place September 14 and 15 at the state fair grounds in Timonium and will draw vendors from across the country. The Maryland Herpetological Society, of which Hoen is president, sponsors the event.
So far, Hoen has raised $65,000, donated to the California- based Center for Ecosystem Survival for purchase of 845 acres of rainforest.
“I think it’s something we absolutely have to do,” he says. “I think without wild things preserved, ultimately people are going to lose. Half of what you buy in the pharmacy store … it came from plants and animals.”
Hoen also helps the National Aquarium in Baltimore raise funds for “locking up land from development,” as he puts it. For three years, after Preakness festivities at Pimlico Race Course, he has joined about 200 aquarium volunteers in cleaning the infield. The money from recycling aluminum cans goes to rain forest preservation.
Jack Cover, curator of the aquarium’s rain forest exhibits, was among the many people who doubted Hoen could pull off his plans for a reptile show.
“You’ve got good intentions,” he recalls telling his friend, “but … it’s a lot of work. I don’t think you know what you are getting into.”
But today, Cover says Hoen sets the standard. Beyond donating profits, “he does not allow any animals with questionable health to enter the show.” Veterinarians and professionals, including Cover, inspect the animals.
“I run the strictest show in the country,” Hoen says.
Tom Dembeck, a friend of Hoen’s who helps at the show, says that last year, about 150 appreciative vendors collected over $2,000 to buy two round-trip plane tickets to Costa Rica — one for Hoen and the other for his wife, Diane. Hoen has not yet set a date to go. Once there, he says only half jokingly, “I’m not going to want to come back.” -30-