Get to Know Gerald Keown – SWCHR Founder

Gerald Keown was born and raised in the brush country of South Texas. Although his lifelong vocation has been law enforcement, his avocation for the past 60+ years has been herpetology. In addition to his herpetological interests, he has also been a wildlife photographer whose work was published regularly in numerous outdoor and hunting publications during the 1980s.

Back in 1955, on his 10th birthday, Gerald was given a paperback copy of the Golden Nature Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians by Herbert Zim and Hobart Smith and thereafter his family found him spending all his spare time at the neighborhood ponds and creeks collecting ribbon snakes, leopard frogs, tiger salamanders, assorted lizards, and turtles. He was 12 years old when the first edition of Roger Conant’s A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians was published and Gerald quickly obtained a copy. In fact, today that well-worn old book still has a place on his bookshelf. By this time Gerald had developed a serious interest in reptiles and amphibians and that interest has remained over the years. According to some of his family, “That’s the part of the boy in him that never grew up.” In both 1960 and 1961, Gerald won first place in the biology division of his high school’s science fair for his continuing efforts in surveying and identifying the reptiles and amphibians that occurred in Jim Wells County, Texas.

Having little formal training in the field, other than a single college herpetology course, most of his knowledge relating to reptiles and amphibians has been self-taught. Gerald, who describes himself as an avocational herpetologist, has had articles and notes published in Herpetologica, Journal of Herpetology, Herpetological Review, Captive Breeding, and the SWCHR Bulletin in addition to several other local and regional publications.

Gerald’s primary interest has always been the herpetofauna of the Southwestern United States and Mexico. During his life, he has spent many days and nights in the field throughout the South Texas brush country and the Trans-Pecos region of Texas. During the 1970s he obtained the necessary permits and made two trips into the interior of Mexico to study, collect and photograph the herpetofauna of that country. Currently, his specific herpetological interests are the rattlesnakes (Crotalus and Sistrurus), kingsnakes and milk snakes (Lampropeltis), and rat snakes (Bogertophis, Pantherophis, and Senticolis) of the Southwestern U. S. and Mexico.

In 2001 he retired after serving over 35 years in Texas municipal and state law enforcement and spent the next 6 years near Cody in northwestern Wyoming, where he operated an Internet hosting and web design business in addition to working for the Security Department of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. In 2007 he returned to his home state of Texas. He currently resides in south-central Texas with his wife, Susan, and their two Golden Retrievers, Sheila, and Chloe. He continues to work in the security industry and provides technical and consulting services on herpetological related matters as he continues to pursue his interests in both herpetology and photography.

From 1997 until 2009 Gerald operated The Venomous Snakes of Texas website which was originally designed to provide assistance to Texas homeowners and outdoorsmen in identifying snakes that they encountered. During the twelve years that this site was in operation, he logged and responded to over 5,000 snake identification requests from across Texas. After several years, he found the Venomous Snakes of Texas site growing to include material that went beyond the original intent and scope of the site. As a result, in early 2007 the Southwestern Center for Herpetological Research came into being. In August 2009 The Venomous Snakes of Texas site closed down in order for Gerald to devote more of his time to the further development and operation of the Southwestern Center for Herpetological Research.

In 2009 the Southwestern Center for Herpetological Research ceased being just another herp related web site when Gerald, Tom Lott, Toby Brock, the late Hans Koenig, Terry Cox, Diego Ortiz, Bill White, Todd Hughes, Riley Campbell, John Williams, Jason Penney, and Damon Salceies along with several other southwestern herpers banded together to become a Texas non-profit association governed by a Board of Directors. Gerald transferred ownership of the SWCHR web site over to the newly formed Association. SWCHR obtained 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status from the IRS in January of 2012. Gerald, who is now Charter Life Member of SWCHR, served as the Association’s Executive Director from 2009 through 2016.