Team Profiles

Ken Earnest

"Done it all my life."

Position: Head Curator of Reptiles
Responsibilities: Care and maintenance of Reptile Gardens’ large and varied collection of reptiles.

Sensitive to the needs of the animals under his care, Ken is dedicated to conservation issues and animal welfare. He conducts animal health checks and feeds animals in accordance with diet requirements, feeding schedules, and procedures. He maintains each animal’s enclosure for environmental and safety concerns, and keeps records of animal behavior and breeding. He also uses his vast repertoire of reptile show skills to help train each year’s new reptile show staff.

Ken grew up in Los Angeles, California. As a young man, he first began working with alligators and crocodiles on his family’s reptile zoo. Ken did everything on the California Alligator Farm, including performing hundreds of shows and ultimately taking over from his father. Upon closing the facility, Ken spent some time working in Florida before he came to South Dakota in 1991 to work with the extensive collection of reptiles at the Gardens.

After moving to the much colder Midwest, Ken found he didn’t miss the California sunshine all that much.

“I don’t miss it a bit, I like the seasons. Reptile Gardens is also a good place to work, and has an amazing collection to work with - my first love is always the animals.”

Crocodilian breeding projects

Ken has gained a very great reputation and is respected all over the world for his vast knowledge of reptiles and experience breeding rare and threatened Crocodilian species. He has successfully reproduced the following forms of crocodilians (many were the first to be bred in captivity):

  • Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) - first captive breeding in the western hemisphere
  • Cuban Crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) - first captive breeding in the United States
  • Marsh Crocodile (Crocodylus palustris) – likely the first captive breeding outside of India
  • Australian Saltwater Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) - likely the first captive breeding in the western hemisphere
  • Siamese Crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis)
  • American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus)
  • Morlet's crocodile (Crocodylus moreleti)
  • Dwarf Crocodile (Osteolaemus tetraspis)
  • Brown Caiman (Caiman c. fuscus)
  • Yacare Caiman (Caiman c. yacare)
  • American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)

Ken has also established longevity records with Nile Crocodiles, Crocodylus niloticus, and the very rare Cuban Crocodile, Crocodylus rhombifer.

Things to know about Ken

  1. He is most fond of crocodilians, but has no favorites.
  2. He has bred 11 forms of crocodilians.
  3. He was instrumental in the transport of Maniac.
  4. Ken has learned to be careful, and has never experienced any close calls working with such large, powerful animals.
  5. In his spare time, he likes to ride his motorcycle.