The Zoo You Never Knew

In the time he has taught at SUNY Cobleskill, Dr. Mike Losito has worked with thousands of students. He has also developed the College’s Herpetology Lab into a campus attraction. After bringing his collection of reptiles and amphibians to campus in 1997, he now plans to transition the “Herp Lab” into something uniquely SUNY Cobleskill: The Turtle Zoo.

“The turtles, honestly, are not getting enough attention,” says Dr. Losito. “I want to move to creating an isolated turtle ‘zoo’ to promote the turtles, and promote conservation. Turtles cannot take much more abuse, habitat-wise.”

Beginning this past summer, the snakes that have been housed in the Herp Lab home are relocating – to faculty offices, Dr. Losito jokes – paving the way for a dedicated turtle facility. In other words, while the mission is unchanged, the specifics of the conservation are shifting.

“I initially set up the lab to give students access they wouldn’t normally get to these animals,” says Dr. Losito. “As time has gone on and our turtle collection has increased, I think we need to, and I think we can promote the conservation of this rare cohort of animal.” Of the 260 turtle species in the world, 20 (12.5 percent) are currently in New York. Of those 20, the College’s collection includes 13 (five percent of the world’s species, and 65 percent of species in New York.)

While the Herp Lab is already a draw for campus guests, the Turtle Zoo is among the largest collections of turtle species on the Eastern Seaboard. As he works on verifying its magnitude – he says there may be facilities of similar size and depth in the Southeast – Dr. Losito plans on adding two more species in the next year. He says the facility’s potential is exponential for prospective students, students, and visitors curious about learning how to “protect through education.”

“I cannot tell you the number of students who remember seeing the Herp Lab for the first time and tell me, ‘When I opened that door, I knew I was coming here…’ I want to have people driving on [Interstate] 88 saying, ‘Hey, we need to stop and check out SUNY Cobleskill – they have the Turtle Zoo!’”

Feature photo: Some of the 13 species of turtle living in the Turtle Zoo pose for the camera. The 13 species at the College make up 65 percent of all turtles currently living in New York.

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