Cameron English, a 2006 Crestwood High School graduate, spends his days in a Hanover Township storefront with about 900 to 1,000 animals, primarily reptiles.
He also conducts biomedical research, including injecting himself with snake venom.
His reptile obsession began when he was a kid roaming the woods of Mountain Top, catching garter snakes and salamanders. His first rescued reptile was a ball python he took over from someone who wasn’t caring for it properly. He still owns that python, “Sheldon,” and has been hooked ever since.
English earned a biology degree from King’s College in 2014, specializing in herpetology. He also worked as a veterinary technician for 15 years, but he quit that job in order to focus on his shop, CDE Exotics, where he sells and breeds animals and does educational programs. He recently took some of his animals to the Bloomsburg Fair, and he often visits schools and birthday parties to do programs. Last weekend, he took some reptiles to a Family Fun Day at Christ United Methodist Church in Mountain Top to raise money for the Herbst family, who were hit by a car while walking in their neighborhood in August. He always concludes his presentations with opportunities for people to touch, pet and hold his animals.
He also takes 911 calls, working with police when venomous species are abandoned or escape. Last summer, he pried an 8-foot boa constrictor from the undercarriage of a car in Kingston.
English says he’s something of an anomaly in this region because he’s the only local reptile specialist with a herpetology degree. He has customers who travel to Hanover Township from State College, Lock Haven and southern New York.
He used to run the reptile business out of his Wilkes-Barre home, but when his second child was born, he moved the business into the Hanover Township storefront to free up a bedroom for his daughter. He and his wife Megan have two children: Kai, 4, and Ivy, 2. They also have a bearded dragon, two dogs, five cats and a snake at home, so not all of the animals moved out.
The family has since sold the Wilkes-Barre house and moved back up the mountain to the Wapwallopen area.
English has read extensively about the late William Haast, who directed the Miami Serpentarium Laboratories in Florida and injected himself with venom to develop immunity to the snakebites he was sure to receive as a reptile handler. English decided to follow a similar course. So far, he has injected himself with the venoms of about 10 different species.
“You black out every time, and you vomit your brains out,” he said. But he has a nurse with him every time he self-injects. And he has already decided it’s worth it because he was bitten about a month and a half ago with no ill effects.
A King’s College organic chemist is planning to work with him on medical research using snake venom, he said.
In addition to reptiles, he also raises many rats, both as snake food and as pets for sale. He also has a cockatiel that he nursed back from an immunosuppressant disorder and a macaw he accepted from a couple that was moving away. Sometimes he nurses an animal back to health and then can’t stand to sell it, he said.
Moving about his shop, he points out a 37-pound reticulated python, a yellow-and-white snake that looks gigantic and vicious but ought to weigh twice as much, he said. He took the snake from a home where the occupants were being evicted, and they hadn’t cared for him properly.
He also points out a large snapping turtle with a sign above his tank, warning customers that if they want to keep their hands, they won’t touch the turtle.
He has a storage shelf with individual drawers, each containing a baby snake. There are bearded dragons, turtles of all sizes, a male alligator that is nearly full-grown, three baby female alligators, rattlesnakes, iguanas and a blue-tongued skink whose tongue is indeed bright blue.
Some of them he even calls “sweetheart,” and he kisses the skink and baby alligators on their mouths.
“This is not work for me,” he said. CDE Exotics is located at 97
Oxford Street in Hanover. For information visit: cde-exotics.com.