Stihl Dealer Days

Rural Missouri Magazine

Outback Ed

Meet the Dr. Doolittle of reptiles and other exotic critters
"Outback" Ed Kiernan allows Julius Squeezer, his nearly 10-foot-long albino Burmese python, to give him a hug.

When Ed Kiernan was about 6 years old, the family cat brought home a horn toad lizard and Ed was hooked.

“Other than some cat slobber, the lizard was fine,” says Ed, 41. “So I learned how to care for it. I was also lucky to have parents and teachers who encouraged my curiosity.”

Today Ed lives in Eureka, west of St. Louis. He says his wife, Dawn, tolerates the “Fear Factor” menagerie in their basement as Ed’s hobby that’s a bit out of control. Ed doesn’t seem to think nearly 50 reptiles, snakes and amphibians in the basement is a lot.

“I’ve got a green iguana, three boa constrictors, a blue-tongued skink, bearded dragons, leopard geckos, a spur-thigh tortoise from Africa, a White’s tree frog from Australia, fire salamanders from Europe, a monitor, American toads, black rat snakes, Everglade rat snakes, Canadian garter snakes, a carpet python, a reticulated python.”

Ed pauses. “And like a zillion hissing cockroaches. They look like little Snicker candy bars with legs.”

Every single critter is named, except for the cockroaches for obvious reasons.

According to Ed you’d never know anything is different about their home — except for the kids lining up at the front door with creatures in buckets to ask, “What’s this?”

This bearded dragon, dubbed Red Beard, originally hails from Australia. According to Ed, bearded dragons are one of the most personable pets anyone could have.

While every county and city has different laws, Ed says in Eureka he doesn’t need any special permits to house his friends. But he does advise checking with local authorities before buying an exotic animal as a pet.

When Ed’s not identifying reptiles for neighborhood children, he’s a social worker who helps people with disabilities living in group homes. When Ed met his wife they were both working at a group home. It was then she saw how therapeutic the animals were for their clients.

“We had one non-verbal lady who eventually started making animal noises and trying to talk as we worked with her and she learned about the animals,” says Ed. “That’s gratifying.”

In 1990, Ed’s hobby officially became Outback Ed., Inc. When he’s not working his day job, “Outback Ed” takes his own Wild Kingdom on the road, educating children as well as adults at schools, fairs, scout programs and birthday parties.

“I want to entertain while I educate.”

Ed’s star attraction is Julius Squeezer, an albino Burmese python, his pride and joy. He bought Julius from a high school girl who loved the reptile and kept it on display at school. The new school principal didn’t feel the same way about Julius and called the girl’s mom to have the snake removed. The mom said, “What snake?” $140 later, Julius had a new home with Ed.

Julius is about 7 years old, weighs about 50 pounds and is 9-1/2 feet long. Seeing Ed pull Julius from his traveling container brings many “cool” and “awesome” exclamations from most kids while a few onlookers are more hesitant about Ed’s scaly friends.

“We’re not born afraid of things. We learn to be afraid,” says Ed. “I want kids to learn not only by listening to me, but by touching all the animals I bring. That’s how they’ll get over their fears.”

Ed enlists a little help to hold a large python during a presentation at a Girl Scouts camp held at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis.

No kid is forced to touch Julius or his friends, but Ed gives everyone the chance. He teaches about what countries they’re from, what they eat, how to hold them and answers questions about each pet.

While most kids enjoy meeting Ed’s exotic pets, adults more often call Ed at home to ask him to remove the unwanted reptilian guests.

In 1998 Ed was asked to help remove a spectacled caiman from a septic lagoon. So he and a few reptile-loving buddies took a boat into the muck and eventually managed to capture the young crocodilian.

Other rescues include a call to remove a boa constrictor from a linen closet in an apartment, capturing a boa from a backyard and finding a black rat snake that decided to make a large pipe in a cluttered garage its home.

While Ed doesn’t keep venomous snakes, for a price he’ll hunt the unwanted guests down.

“I usually get $100 for snake removals,” says Ed, “because if I get tagged, I’m probably going to miss a couple days of work from it.”

Last fall a lady called him to remove a full-grown female copperhead from the plastic chicken wire fence around her garden. The snake was stuck and instead of killing it, she called Ed. While he intently held the snake and worked on cutting away the fence, the lady snapped a picture with a flash camera.

Three children react to the prospect of holding a large snake.

“Guess she wanted proof it was really there,” he says. “But I about had a heart attack.”

Another time, Ed was clearing a trail and as he was about to grab a timber rattler from a rock pile, his pager went off on vibrate.

“My advice? Turn off the pager,” says the snake handler.

Ed’s future goals are to get his Web site up and start work on a children’s book. He also has a few more acquisitions he’d like to make.

“I’d love to have a Gila monster (lizard) and a shingleback skink,” says Ed, “but my dream find would be a Blomberg toad from Columbia.”

But his first goal is always teaching people about these wonderful, often misunderstood exotic creatures that exist in our ecosystem.

“I take good care of my animals and I’m good with them,” says Ed. “I love them like anyone would love their dog, cat or bird. It truly is my passion.”

For more information, call Outback Ed Kiernan at (314) 882-5357 or e-mail kiernan@brick.net.

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