Joe offers food to a young female Komodo dragon in its habitat in the Herpetarium. While a bite from a Komodo dragon in the wild can be deadly due to the build up of bacteria from eating carrion (dead animals), at the Zoo they are fed fresh meat and have a non-toxic (but still painful) bite.
Name: Joe Branham
Title: Animal Area Technician, Herpetarium
Tenure at the OKC Zoo: 23 years
Residence: Edmond, OK
1. What are your primary responsibilities at the Zoo?
While it is difficult to explain what needs to be done in a herpetarium on a day-to-day basis, let’s just say I am responsible for every aspect of making my charges as comfortable as possible. i.e. feeding, cleaning and setting up habitats.
2. What are some of your favorite animals to work with and why? It is so hard to identify a favorite, especially after having done this so long! Generally I enjoy animals that involve some type of challenge or have some enigma . I tend to gravitate towards trainable animals and can say I truly enjoyed working with our elephants when that was part of my job.
3. What is a common misconception people have about snakes and/or lizards?
It is truly amazing what one hears in the hallway of the Herpetarium! The thing everyone needs to understand is that no reptile has on its agenda to get anyone. The one thing I know to be true is that if you make eye contact with a snake all your children will be born naked.
4. When did you know you wanted to be a Zoo keeper?
My father was 27 years in the Air Force so my formative years were spent globe hopping. Bouncing around the world provided me with great opportunity to collect and keep herps (snakes, lizards, frogs or turtles) that one would not normally have access to. This may well be why I never grew out of my frogs and snakes stage of development.
What is your favorite Zoo memory from when you were young?
Most of my memories are of an earlier time and don’t translate well in this day and age. Let’s just say spending time with herp staff in the 70’s was groovy.
During high school and beyond I was involved with dog training for police departments. What that means is most of the time I was the guy the dogs were after in the big suit! Learning behavior and training techniques soon led to my becoming lead trainer for a few dogs and I am proud to say they served well. Another hobby of the time was ichthyology (the branch of Zoology dedicated to the study of fish) and my parents' house soon became filled with aquaria of all types and sizes. This led to my first animal job with a tropical fish wholesaler. I started out maintaining the livestock and moved up to managing the entire hatchery. I should probably mention my parents were very supportive of my interests and permitted perhaps an over indulgence to satisfy my curiosities. My father had the C.B. handle “zookeeper”. While incredibly fulfilled, paying bills I wasn’t, so I moved on to a more lucrative profession and became an import technician at a VW dealership. With the bills now being paid, I married my wife(of now 30 years) and she and I operated a small horse breeding training facility. I even built a small herp building so moving my ever-growing collection of reptiles out of the house would be possible. Having moved on to Porsche repair, I believed my life was set out when I received a call from the Oklahoma City Zoo asking if I would consider taking a job. It seems I had developed a reputation in the herp community! I accepted the position, sold the horses and moved to Edmond, and that was some 23 years ago.