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Holland man hopes to open community reptile exhibit

By Cassandra Bondie/The Holland Sentinel • Dec 15, 2018 at 3:00 PM

HOLLAND TWP. — When it comes to bringing knowledge and joy to wide-eyed spectators, Lalo Salcedo has it covered.

Salcedo, a Holland resident and graphic designer, has more than 50 reptiles. Through his company, ReptilesLS, he shares his collection at elementary schools, private events and temporary exhibits.

“I actually have all of 2019 booked for the Grand Rapids Reptile Expo,” he said.

His interest in reptiles began nearly 15 years ago with two green iguanas.

“I was maybe 20,” Salcedo said. “And they died on me, because I put them downstairs and the bulbs went out overnight and they got too cold. And then life happened.”

But four years ago, the passion was reignited when Salcedo brought home Spike, a bearded dragon. Since then, the collection has grown immensely. It now includes turtles, geckos, chameleons and snakes — all non-venomous.

“Some people think I’m crazy, but I’ve always loved to wash dishes and fold clothes,” he said. “Cleaning the enclosures and spending time with my reptiles is therapeutic to me. It gives me time to reflect.”

Once he raises enough money, Salcedo would like to open a permanent exhibit in Holland, complete with a miniature library and computers that will be available to the public.

“The goal is to have more than 200 reptiles,” he said. “I want to have really big reptiles you can’t just see anywhere. I’ve lived here 23 years, and I want to give this community something they’ve never had before.”

Visitors in Salcedo’s home are forgiven for thinking they’re already in an exhibit. He has a high-tech system in place — the same system he would like to improve and include in his permanent building.

Tile flooring is placed in many enclosures for easy and thorough cleaning, sick reptiles have special lights and cages for treatment, brightly lit tablets are placed for informative display, and hand sanitizer is easily accessible. Even outside his home, Salcedo provides a memorable experience for his audience.

“I’ve gone to Great Lakes Elementary (School), and I’ve always wondered what being a rockstar feels like,” he said. “Those kids made me feel like a rockstar. I love seeing the kids excited. I really do. And, with adults, we’re grown, we’re stressed out, life has us feeling some type of way at times. So, seeing adults turn into little kids, that’s priceless to me.”

For Salcedo, it’s all about creating that joy.

“It’s not about making money,” he said. “I know families in the community, they may be struggling financially, they may be going through depression. But for that one moment that I have them, I can fill them with hope and joy and excitement.”

The motivation to improve lives spurred from Salcedo’s past, which wasn’t always so positive.

“There have been different seasons in my life,” he said. “I’ve been homeless. I’ve gone through some stuff, like most people. And this here, it’s a blessing. There’s moments when I would sit down and just reflect on my life. And, I thought, I want to use all my mess, all my struggles, and encourage others.”

Before he can open his exhibit, Salcedo has to raise enough money to expand his collection and secure a building. While interested parties can donate through GoFundMe, Salcedo would prefer to offer something in return.

“I’m not really asking people to hand me money,” he said. “I have shirts for sale. I design graphics for small and big businesses, and if you order any kind of design from me and mention reptiles, a portion will go toward the exhibit. For those who donate $50 or more, I’ll give a private tour of what I have now.”

To learn more, visit facebook.com/reptilesls.

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