The People Behind the
King Cobra Conservancy
Our board of directors represents some of the world's
foremost experts on snakes, with combined decades of
experience studying behavior, ecology, and habitats
related to King Cobras.
Director of Agritoxins Venom Lab – Saint Cloud, Florida
Jack Facente has been married to his wife Sally for 47 years; they have 2 children and 6 grandchildren. Jack grew up in Hialeah, Florida where he became interested in snakes at age 7. In 1966, he started working at the Miami Serpentarium on weekends and full time in 1967. He kept and extracted venom from his first King Cobra in 1967. A serious snake bite in 1967 sparked his interest in Toxinology. He moved to Saint Cloud, Florida in 1972 to build Reptile World Serpentarium (Biotoxins, Inc.) with George VanHorn. Jack remained Vice President of Biotoxins until 1996. He founded Agritoxins Venom Lab in 2009 to specifically produce 100 grams of Eastern Coral Snake venom to be used in the manufacturing of a new North American Coral Snake Antivenom.
Matt Goode, PhD
Research Scientist, University of Arizona
Matt Goode grew up in Wyoming during the 60’s and 70’s. The wilds of Wyoming were all that he needed to inspire his mind and keep him out of trouble (most of the time). He attended the University of Wyoming and began his career as a field biologist, studying prairie rattlesnakes in Dave Duvall’s lab. After graduation, Matt went to the tiny Caribbean island of Aruba, where he spent two years studying the rare and endangered Aruba Island Rattlesnake. On Aruba, he met Andrea, a beautiful Dutch woman, with whom he moved to Amsterdam, where he taught biology to high school kids. In 1993, Matt moved to Arizona, eventually completing his MSc and PhD in Wildlife Ecology at the University of Arizona in Tucson. In 2008, he and Rom Whitaker started the first-ever intensive radiotelemetry study of king cobras in the rainforests of south India. His work on king cobras has now expanded into Thailand and Indonesia. Matt is currently a research scientist at the University of Arizona, where he manages an active research program on ecology and conservation of herpetofauna. Matt, Andrea, and their daughter, Remi, now live in the heart of the Sonoran Desert, a hotspot of herpetofaunal diversity.
KCC Honorary Director
Co-founder of the Miami Serpentarium (retired)
Clarita is a woman of many talents, and is most recognized as the co-founder of the renowned Miami Serpentarium. The famous tourist attraction opened in 1946, and grew quickly to become a place that so many people remember and love. While Bill Haast was the face of the Serpentarium, Clarita Haast was the voice. Her design ability and talent for handling the public made the tourist attraction a true Miami treasure. Clarita now lives in California.
Naia Hannah Haast
KCC Vice President
Naia Hannah (meaning “blooming flower” which is also the scientific name for the King Cobra) is the eldest daughter of Bill and Clarita Haast. She grew up in Miami Florida in wonderfully unique surroundings, the Miami Serpentarium. Exotic snakes and various reptiles were abundant. In later years, Naia moved to southern California, owning and showing American Saddlebreds and standard poodles. Film and theater experience lead to wardrobe design as well as set work, but horses and exotics were, and always will be close to her heart. The whimsical reality of her life is always expressed in her art.
Owner and director of Studio 770 – Music production studio in Brea, California
While her father was handling cobras in front of crowds, Shantih used her early years at the Miami Serpentarium to learn how to play various instruments. She then went to the University of Miami in Florida to study music theory where she began creating her own music. Moving to California in 1978, she attended UCLA, studying song writing and music production. Her professional audio career started when she moved to Topanga, California and worked for five years as an assistant engineer in a high-end recording studio. Shantih then went back to school for 6 years studying film scoring and orchestral writing at Cal State Northridge. Shantih soon decided to design and build her own studio. Studio 770 was opened in September 2000, and is now producing music 24/7.
Art and Social Media Media Consultant
The granddaughter of Bill & Clarita Haast, her love and fascination with reptiles is truly in her blood. Talaria has always been exposed to various animals and reptiles throughout her life. Growing up in Los Angeles, the number of exotic beasts that graced her house was remarkable. Her interesting childhood turned into an interesting teenage and young adulthood, and she continues to this day to surround herself and her family with delightful companions, including her husband and beautiful new daughter.
Director of Reptile Discovery Programs, Plant City Florida
Managing Director of The Crocodilian Conservation Center of Florida, Inc. Frostproof, Florida.
An internationally recognized crocodilian specialist, he has become an integral part of the Crocodilian Advisory Group of the American Zoological Association (AZA), participating in the Chinese Alligator and Cuban Crocodile Species Survival Plans. He has reared twenty-three of the world’s twenty-four species of crocodilians and has bred eight species in captivity. Many of the crocodilians that Bruce Shwedick has raised are currently a part of educational exhibits and captive breeding programs in zoological parks and aquariums. He currently has crocodilians on loan to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, the Philadelphia Zoo, Zoo Miami, Portland Zoo and the Newport Aquarium in Kentucky.
Bruce has served for over a decade as an author and instructor for the AZA’s Crocodilian Biology and Captive Management Course, a professional development course for zookeepers and aquarists. Bruce currently serves on the Steering Committee of the IUCN/SSC Crocodile Specialist Group. As Chairman for the CSG’s Tomistoma Task Force; he is promoting public awareness about the endangered Tomistoma, aka False Gharial, raising funds for conservation initiatives and at the same time providing training and consulting services to zoological parks and aquariums. In 2014, he participated in a month long review mission of crocodile ranching, farming and conservation in Indonesia, along with other members of the IUCN Crocodile Specialist Group including the Chairman, Professor Grahame Webb. The mission’s participants also included representatives of the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry, its Department of National Parks, the Institute of Sciences and the Indonesian Association of Crocodile Farmers.
Reptile World, Inc. – Bowie, Maryland
Since 1970, Michael Shwedick has introduced America to the fascinating world of reptiles. One of America’s leading reptile wildlife educators, Michael’s program has educated and entertained more than 15,000 audiences from Miami to Boston. More than 100,000 people a year experience Reptile World. Featured in magazines like National Geographic WORLD and in hundreds of newspaper articles throughout the country, Michael instills a marvelous respect for both reptiles and his audiences.
He considers himself very fortunate to have been not only influenced by, but also to fall in the category of being a “student” of the legendary Mr. Haast.
KCC Honorary Director
Owner and Director of Reptile World Serpentarium/Biotoxins Venom Laboratories in Saint Cloud, Florida
George’s interest in snakes was sparked during early childhood in South Florida in the nineteen forties. That deep interest was given direction when he walked into the Miami Serpentarium as a Cub Scout in 1950. There he was mesmerized by the science surrounding snakes and their venoms and the man whose job was working with snakes every day of his life. After the Army and a year roaming around Mexico and Central America snake hunting in an old Reo bus, George returned to Miami with 50 Yellow Bellied Sea Snakes captured off the coast of El Salvador for Miami Serpentarium’s William E. Haast who then offered George a job. There George met his now very good friend Jack Facente and also met and was inspired by Marlin Perkins to further his formal education. After graduating from Florida Atlantic University in 1972 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology, George along with Jack Facente moved to Saint Cloud, Florida to establish a venom production facility patterned after the work of his mentor Bill Haast. With the help of family along with friends, most notably Jack Facente and Bonnie Watkins, Reptile World Serpentarium was established. Today, visitors can learn about and experience this unique branch of science. Biotoxins Venom Laboratories has become a major supplier of snake venoms for research, medicine and anti-venom production for North America. The facility is now operated by George and his wife of 21 years, Rosa Van Horn, David Bledsoe who works in animal husbandry maintaining an extensive public exhibit, and the continued dedicated support of Jack Facente. George is glad to have helped inspire and support two new venom production facilities, Carl Barden’s Medtoxin lab in Deland, Florida and Jack Facente’s Agritoxins lab in Osceola County, Florida.
Wildlife Biologist , Jadora LLC; Director, Natural Selections of South Florida
Joe Wasilewski grew up in the city of Chicago, very active in several fields of sports, but his heart wished to reach out and work with various forms of wildlife. Upon landing in the US Army in 1973, he trained as a Military Policeman working with sentry dogs at a NIKE Hercules missile base in south Florida. While in the Army, he was employed at the Miami Serpentarium and thus began a long career of hands-on work with reptiles. He worked under the tutelage of Mr. William Haast for four years. Joe graduated from Florida International University (1981) with a BS Degree in Biology. He has been appointed to the IUCN, as a member of both the Crocodile Specialist Group and Iguana Specialist Group. He is a member of the IUCN CSG Tomistoma Task Force, Bahamas National Trust as well as the Explorer’s Club located in New York City. Joe is president of Natural Selections of South Florida, an environmental consulting firm. He has made appearances on NBC’s Today Show, the Tonight Show (with both Johnny Carson and Jay Leno), ABC Evening News and CBS Nightly News. He also regularly consults with natural history productions and national/international news outlets such as National Geographic, Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, BBC, CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, HGTV, History Channel and Al Jazeera News.
Conservation Biologist, Natural Selections of South Florida
Stephenie Wasilewski grew up in Utah and has always had a passion for the outdoors and animals. She worked in the family pet store from the time she was 12 and immediately fell in love with reptiles. She moved to Florida in 2001 and worked with youth at the Miami Beach Community Health Center, volunteered for crocodile surveys, and worked at Jungle Island for seven years – eventually supervising Joe Wasilewski’s reptile show in the Serpentarium. This is where she met the love of her life, Nick Wasilewski. In 2006 they married and the family was stationed at a Coast Guard base in San Francisco, Ca.
Over the next six years Stephenie finished her B.S. in Biology, became a science teacher, started working on entering data for REDD+ projects in Africa, fundraising for endangered species, and enjoyed herping throughout the western states with her family. In 2012 the Wasilewski family returned to South Florida. Stephenie worked as a Zoo Keeper at Zoo Miami for two years before returning to teaching. She currently teaches high school Biology and Environmental Science in Miami Dade County and continues to be actively involved in fundraising, data entry, and fieldwork for a variety of species. Stephenie and Nick will be celebrating their 10th anniversary this year with their two kids, Claire and Joey, who share their passion for animals, conservation, and education.
Herpetologist, Wildlife Conservationist, Founder of Madras Snake Park, The Andaman and Nicobar Environment Trust, and the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust – India
Born in New York City, Rom migrated to Bombay with his mother Doris Norden and step-father Rama Chattopadhyaya in 1951, age seven. He was already fascinated by snakes and his first Bombay buddies were snake charmers. Rom tried college in the USA but the lure of working for the legendary William Haast at the Miami Serpentarium, was much stronger. He spent the two years there, learning snake care and venom extraction from the master, skills that would be mighty handy back in India. It was too good to last and that was when the Vietnam War caught up with him. After his mandatory two years, he sailed straight back to India aboard a Greek freighter. Returning to India in 1967, with the help of family and friends he set up the Madras Snake Park and then in 1975 the Madras Crocodile Bank, now India’s premier research centre for herpetology. He has two sons, Nikhil and Samir, both now wildlife professionals.
Rom helped his tribal snake-catcher friends set up the Irula Snake-catchers Cooperative Society to milk snakes for venom to produce antivenom serum saving thousands of snakebite victims all over India. Rom was then contracted by the UN to help set up a network of village crocodile farms across New Guinea. Subsequent years saw him travel to Bangladesh, Mozambique, Ethiopia and Borneo to survey the wilds for crocs. Knowing he could reach millions of people via TV Rom teamed up with old friends to make movies on snakes, snakebite, rainforests. With his wife Janaki he started producing and presenting films for Nat Geo including ‘King Cobra’ – which even won them an Emmy Award!
In 1989 Rom set up a base in the Andaman Islands (ANET) and in 2005 he established the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station in India’s Western Ghats for which he received the Whitley Fund for Nature Award (UK) and the Rolex Award for Enterprise.
Studying king cobras has become a driving force ostensibly to understand the snake’s conservation status but equally to indulge in what he likes doing the most – wandering in the forest. The insights he unravels about this icon of the rainforest are contributing to securing the animal’s habitat and its future. Rom divides his time between king cobra research, gharial conservation and solving India’s snakebite problem, all of which keeps life pretty full. Rom lives on a farm with his wife Janaki Lenin, a writer, plus four dogs, an emu and a wild pig, next to Vallam Reserve Forest, 50 miles outside the south Indian city of Chennai.
Heyward Clamp Jr. (1943-2017)
Heyward Clamp Jr., born to Heyward F. Clamp Sr. and Esther Long Clamp of Salley, South Carolina in 1943. Heyward became interested in snakes at a very early age and captured his first live snake, a southern hognosed snake (Heterodon simus) at the age of 11. Addicted early to the thrills, adventures, and excitement of hunting for and capturing snakes alive, Heyward, followed by his younger brother of three years, Ted, and their very close friend Winston Brown, grew up roaming and snake-hunting the South Carolina low country. Immediately after graduating from high school in 1961 Heyward made a “beeline” to Miami Florida to try to get a job working at the Miami Serpentarium with his hero, Mr. Bill Haast. He remained there until he received a draft notice in 1965. While living in Florida Heyward honed his snake-hunting skills by hanging with such crusty old Florida snake hunters as Attila Beke, Joe Lazlo, Ray Van Nostrand, Rom Whitaker, Art Bass, and Bill Tudor (who died from a canebrake rattlesnake bite while snake hunting in South Carolina). Since that time the thrill of snake hunting has led Heyward to such exotic places as Australia and India, but by far his most exciting adventure was the one when Mr. Haast sent him to Honduras and Belize to hunt for fer-de-lance. Heyward is forever indebted to Mr. Haast for providing him with some of the most exciting, educational, and adventurous time of his young life. The Edisto Island Serpentarium, a modern facility housing more than a thousand snakes, lizards, turtles, alligators, and crocodilians was built by Heyward and Ted Clamp and was modeled after the famous Miami Serpentarium. Heyward is now greatly honored to be an affiliate of the KCC, the King Cobra Conservancy, to perpetuate the memory and the legacy of this great man, and to insure the continued existence of the world’s most revered snake: the King Cobra!