Riverside Reptiles Education Center Owner Brian Kleinman

Photo courtesy of the Riverside Reptiles Education Center

ENFIELD — As summer approaches, think about checking out some of these cool places in town. If you’re interested in wildlife conversation, then Riverside Reptiles Education Center is the place to go.

The Riverside Reptiles Education Center, or RREC, is a zoo that specializes in reptiles and amphibians. The center displays other unique animals such as invertebrates, including spiders, scorpions, millipedes, centipedes and various insects from around the world. They also have a small variety of unique freshwater fishes like electric catfish, electric eel, freshwater puffer fish and alligator gar. RREC has the largest reptile and amphibian collections and venomous snake collection in the area.

Owner Brian Kleinman said, “We want people to come to the center, enjoy themselves and have fun, but also learn about wildlife conservation, especially focusing on our indigenous species.”

He continued, “Our goal is to teach people — especially future generations — about why reptiles and amphibians are an integral part of our ecosystem. Reptiles and amphibians have been on earth for hundreds of millions of years, they are more a part of this planet than humans, but it’s up to us to protect many of these species from extinction. Education is the key to starting a conversation about reptile and amphibian conservation.”

Kleinman grew up in Barkhamsted. He attended the Roaring Brook Nature Center summer camp in Canton until he was in eighth grade, then began volunteering at the center when he was 12 and started working there when he was 15. Kleinman worked at Roaring Brook Nature Center every summer until he graduated from college. After he received his degree in biology from Franklin Pierce University, Kleinman worked at the Science Center of Connecticut in Hartford from 1999-2002.

In 2003, Kleinman launched — then called — Riverside Reptiles out of he and his wife’s two-bedroom apartment. Throughout the years Riverside Reptiles started averaging around 250-300 programs a year. It mainly focused on presenting its programs in Connecticut, but they also visited Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island.

Kleinman told Reminder Publishing the great thing about their educational programs is that they can adapt them to any age group, from preschool to adult. They do many birthday party programs, but they also visit libraries, public/private schools, colleges, day cares, camps, scouts, land trust and Audubon groups.

Kleinman and his wife came up with the idea of opening a zoo, and after a year of looking, they finally found a suitable place in 2019 in Enfield. Kleinman completed about 70% of the zoo before COVID-19 hit Connecticut in March of 2020. Thankfully, they were able to survive the shutdown and ended up opening the zoo in October 2020.

“We’re slowly but surely doing better,” Kleinman shared. “Every year, our center becomes more and more popular. The toughest thing is for us to get more publicity. A lot of people still in Connecticut don’t know about us, so we are doing our best to let people know about Riverside Reptiles Education Center through social media such as our YouTube channel, Facebook and Instagram page.”

Each month RREC hosts special events, which are advertised on their website and social media pages. Some of the events are hands-on programs done by Kleinman. For example, last month they did a program on bugs, since they just opened “The Bug Cave” at the center last October.

The center also invites other animal experts to come in to conduct programs. In the past they have had birds of prey, bat, possum and shark presentations. Kleinman’s current goal right now is to have a great summer. As soon as school gets out and summer vacation kicks in, it is their busiest season. The money they bring in during summer vacation will help carry them through the winter. Eventually, Kleinman would like to be successful enough to expand — to make his business larger — and possibly buy the building that he’s currently renting, or maybe even build.

“Riverside Reptiles Education Center would love to provide more things for the community such as after-school programs, more volunteer and internship opportunities, and the capability to take in more rescued and surrendered amphibians, reptiles and large freshwater fish,” said Kleinman. “We just recently established a 501c3 nonprofit called Conservation & Education Reptile Rescue (cereptilerescue.com), and the amount of emails and phones we receive from people wanting to rehome their animals is overwhelming.”

The Riverside Reptiles Education Center is located on 132 South Rd. It is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For more information on special events and the center in general, visit their website at riversidereptileseducationcenter.com or call 860-207-9335. For all up-to-date information, follow them on Facebook.