Clint Laidlaw, of Springville, exhibits crested geckos on his YouTube channel. (Clint’s Reptiles via YouTube)
Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes
SPRINGVILLE — Few, if any, animals instill fear more than spiders, bats and snakes.
But Clint Laidlaw is on a mission to educate the public, and evaporate the fear of at least two of the three.
The interactive experience at Clint’s Reptile Room — full of arachnids, boa constrictors and more — is housed at a historic 19th century building on Main Street in Springville, complete with an original brick, a painted mural and stained glass windows.
Laidlaw has undergraduate degrees in both zoology and biological science and a doctorate in biology, and he’s taught at both Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University. And fortunately, his love of reptiles has translated well to the classroom, as reptiles offer a unique ability to teach hands-on in ways that are impossible with most other wild animals.
As a child, Laidlaw enjoyed animal documentaries and learning on his own, yet even throughout his college years, he wasn’t fond of traditional school.
“It was always amazing to me that my college professors could take something I love so much, that I would go home and study during my free time — and suck all of the fun out of it,” he said.
Laidlaw recalls only one hands-on animal classroom experience in college, involving a hibernating mammal. Early in his teaching career, though, a few crested geckos and ball pythons allowed Laidlaw to do for his students what his professors hadn’t for him.
“In education, the majority of the time, we are teaching people the answers to questions no one is asking”, the reptile enthusiast stated. “As soon as you bring in a real, live animal they want to know everything.
“If you bring in the right animal, they will ask all the questions you were hoping to answer.”
As Laidlaw was completing his doctorate — and barely getting by, financially speaking — his young nephew asked if he could bring a few reptiles to the nephew’s birthday party. He did and the guests and family in attendance were treated to a presentation that left everyone telling him he should continue to do it for a living. “Clint’s Reptile Parties” was born, and educational presentations at local school classrooms soon followed.
Fast forward two years and a regular weekly “guy’s lunch” with two tech entrepreneurs, who are lifelong friends — eventually led to the three brainstorming ideas for a business they could start together. Laidlaw quickly told them he’d have little to offer in business, but one of his friends proclaimed that the animal-lover would actually be the key to it all: They wanted to create a YouTube channel about reptiles.
The wife of one of the men, who is a professional photographer, joined in and in 2017, the Clint’s Reptiles channel was hatched. Today, the channel has more than 460,000 subscribers and has allowed Laidlaw to focus on his reptilian endeavors full-time. His professorial uniform of a shirt and tie, and, “well, hi there!” kicking off each video, have become his trademarks.
The channel is likely best known for introducing hobbyists to a variety of reptiles that make excellent pets and, dissuading some from those that may not.
Laidlaw also takes viewers into the field, where he puts his biology degrees to work. This summer, he and some colleagues spent two weeks in the Amazon Rainforest in Peru — videos of those adventures have already been shared on his channel, including two members of their party subjecting themselves to painful Bullet Ant stings — for science.
While growing the YouTube channel, Laidlaw was still taking reptiles to school classrooms for presentations throughout Utah. As the workload grew, he was teaching others to be in classrooms he didn’t have the time to take on. He and his wife, Leisha Laidlaw, began discussing an idea for an interactive education and training facility that would enable them to reach as many people as possible, including parents of the school children who seemed to love the presentations.
In December 2019, they moved into Clint’s Reptile Room.
Everyone’s lives would be very different shortly thereafter.
By May of 2020 the room was officially open and housed most of the animals, but had yet to host any of the public.
“Do I close it down now or wait for the money to run out completely and then shut it down?” Laidlaw recalls thinking. “Those seemed like the only two options at the time.”
The COVID-19 pandemic had only just begun and no one knew how long its crippling effect would last.
One of his YouTube channel partners suggested hosting room tours virtually, with online payments, and it saved the business. The YouTube channel draws hundreds of thousands of worldwide visitors, as did the virtual room tours.
Clint’s Reptile Room is open to the public Monday and Friday nights, and parties and events can be scheduled by appointment. The room purposely does not look and feel like a typical reptile zoo. A couch and a large table with benches allow people who may be nervous to join in right away, to hang back and take things in at their own pace. Open floor space means turtles and tortoises, along with a large tegu lizard, can interact with and be fed by guests.
Laidlaw makes a point of noticing anyone who may be nervous and discreetly focuses a little more attention on them, as it’s impossible for someone to lose the fear of an animal they know nothing, or only myths, about. Those guests are usually active participants by the end of the evening, he said. Above all, Laidlaw strives to educate anyone who visits, rather than only entertain them — most of the focus is on the animals themselves.
If you bring in the right animal, they will ask all the questions you were hoping to answer.
–Clint Laidlaw, reptile enthusiast and business owner
The YouTube channel and, more importantly, Laidlaw’s love for the breeds, helps to expand interest and knowledge of reptiles in Utah. There are now two reptile expositions each year in the state and several nationally well-known and respected captive breeders of reptiles are located in the state.
“Reptiles are not only fantastic pets, but they work with people’s lifestyles more than most animals people (typically) consider first for pets,” he said. “Snakes and other reptiles are not for everyone, but I think they are right for more people than even dogs.”
And. he would know. He has a dog — and dozens of reptiles.