Strategic Visionary: Connar Haines '19

Connar "The Croc Doc" Lives His Dreams

We caught up with Connar Haines '19 to learn more about what he is up to at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia, and what he looks forward to doing in the future.

When did you graduate from Assets School?  

How long did you attend Assets School? 
Five years from 2014-2019 

After Assets, what school (s) did you attend? 
I graduated in May. Two weeks later I was at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia.

Since graduating from Assets School, what have you been up to? 
Since graduating I have moved to Australia and have pursued a Bachelor of Animal Ecology at the University of the Sunshine Coast, learning from top experts and researchers in various fields of Zoology, Biology, Ecology, and Research as well as being able to take part in special field research opportunities such as studying the behavior of a colony of Eastern Water Dragon lizards in the center of a bustling city, to fish and water insect studies in the red deserts of central Australia, as well as testing green sea turtles for microplastic on the Great Barrier Reef. In addition, I have gained a lot of experience in animal handling through industry work experience as part of my degree and have obtained a special government-issued license to catch and relocate both venomous and non-venomous reptiles, which has come in handy on several occasions. 

What is the most surprising thing that happened to you recently?  
I was visiting my grandmother in Texas after three years of not being able to travel due to covid and caught up with an old friend of the family who shares my passion for snakes. He took me to a snake milking lab, where I got to see an amazingly beautiful collection of America’s most venomous snakes including over a hundred western diamondback rattlesnakes, and participate in the milking and collection of venom which will be used in scientific and pharmaceutical research and to save lives as antivenom. I find people are always willing to share knowledge if you are passionate and willing to learn.

Connar  '19 feeds Alfie, a 15-foot saltwater crocodile at the Koorana Crocodile Farm in Australia.

Where do you work now, and what do you do? 
Currently, I am on track to finish the final semester of my undergraduate degree in June. With only one course remaining, I am also learning to drive a manual car and will get my four-wheel drive certificate and boat license, all valuable skills when you’re planning to go work as a field ecologist in isolated and often wet environments.

Prior to this semester I did three weeks of work experience and was then hired at the Koorana Crocodile Farm in north Queensland as a tour guide. The farm is home to over 4,000 saltwater crocodiles ranging in size from hatchlings that weigh in at less than a deck of playing cards, to adult males who can tip the scale at nearly a ton in weight. Working on a crocodile farm involves many tasks ranging from waiting tables to moving temperamental crocs to new enclosures. However, as a tour guide my primary job was to play the role as both educator and entertainer, informing groups of visitors on the remarkable biology and behavior of crocodiles, their ecological and cultural importance, and perhaps most importantly, how to stay safe in crocodile country. During these tours I would also risk life and limb by feeding the crocodiles by hand, getting them to leap up to grab some tasty chicken out of my hand, which is always an exciting spectacle. in case you’re wondering, yes I still have all 10 fingers!

Connar '19 is surrounded by green tree frogs.

What is a herpetologist, and what fascinates you about the field? 
Herpetologists are zoologists who research the biology, behavior, ecology, and conservation of reptiles and amphibians. Reptiles are often thought of as primitive, slow, dull, and dim-witted creatures. In reality, they are incredibly sophisticated, lethally fast, spectacularly beautiful, and remarkably intelligent. When you experience this firsthand, you simply can’t help but be amazed! 

What inspired you to get into your current job/path? 
My family tells me I became obsessed with dinosaurs at around 2 years old and paleontology has stuck with me to this day as a special interest that I am constantly learning about and researching for my own enjoyment. By the time I was 7 I had worked out that I would rather work with living animals than bones and rocks, and while I had always had a great love for crocodilians it was really at this stage in my life when I decided I wanted to work with them just like the Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin did, who was a big inspiration to me growing up. When Steve sadly passed away, it became clear to me that more kids like me with a passion needed to step up and continue to advocate for the animals that many find hard to love.

What interests you the most about working with reptiles?
If I had to pick one thing, it would probably be their reputation as survivors. Reptiles were the first vertebrate animals to conquer the land almost 300 million years ago, and since then they have boasted an incredible amount of diversity, from lizards so small that they could rest on the tip of your fingernail, to the largest creatures to ever walk the earth, the dinosaurs. Today there are nearly 12,000 different species of reptile, some boast incredibly vivid and eye-catching colors, while others possess patterns so cryptic you can hardly see them, and some can even change their colors in an instant as the situation demands. Some reptiles possess lethal toxins that can kill with a single bite, while others have jaws powerful enough to shatter bone. They can be found on almost every continent, in almost every environment on earth, most live on the land, many live high up in trees, and some even call our oceans home. Put simply, their sheer success and incredible diversity means there is always something new to appreciate and to discover, and doing what I can to educate others and share what makes them so unique and vital in not just our planet's past, but also in our future, never feels like work.

When people ask you if you are afraid of a crocodile or a snake or any of the other animals you work with, what do you say? 
When working with dangerous wildlife there really is no such thing as "safe". It’s all about managing risk as best you can with proper technique and by having a healthy respect for the animal. However, fear truly is the mind killer, when you allow it to impact your decision-making and your ability to act and react to a danger that’s when things can go wrong fast! Instead keeping a level head and holding your nerve is key to both the safety of you and the animal.

Connar '19 in a photo from the 2019 Assets High School Yearbook.

How did Assets prepare you for your career? 
Assets helped me to understand that learning differently from other people was not a personal failing but merely an obstacle or challenge that could be overcome. Assets not only showed me that I could be a good student, but in fact I could be a high achieving student. When I first went to Assets, I was only doing 4th grade math, in the first six months I was doing 8th grade algebra and 10th grade science. My time at assets enabled me to be a confident learner and to self-advocate for what I need to make my experience at university a successful one with access to accommodations and learning access plans that I continue to use to this day.

What are some of your favorite memories of Assets School? 
When I think back to my days at assets, I don’t think of the tests or assignments. Instead, I think of the many friends I made and the fun and supportive teachers I got to know (you know who you are). Having the freedom to be teenagers, playing a few cheeky practical jokes and just having a laugh is really what I remember most from my high school experience. My classmates and I still meet online every week or so where we play games and crack jokes with each other just like we did back in high school, even though we are now across the world from one another. The lifelong friendships I’ve made are what I have taken with me.

What kind of mentorships did you have at Assets School? How did it help your future?  
My mentorship was held at the Honolulu Zoo as both a public educator and as back of house assistant in the ectotherm complex (reptile house). It has always been my dream to work with exotic and dangerous wildlife and share my passion for the natural world with others. The skills and confidence I developed as a public speaker and educator while working at the Honolulu Zoo not only provided me the opportunity to start living that dream but also laid the groundwork for many of the future endeavors I would pursue after graduating from Assets.

Connar '19 and Kraken, the Red-Tailed Boa Constrictor.

What do you like to do for fun? 
My passion for wildlife is not restricted only to my professional life, it is an obsession that influences every other aspect of my life. In truth, there is nothing that puts a bigger smile on my face than when I’m roping the jaws of a croc, swimming side by side with sharks, or pulling a big python out from a tree or someone’s bathroom. I know such a life isn’t for everyone, but I can imagine living my life any other way. 

What’s next for you personally or professionally? 
After completing my undergraduate degree at the end of this semester me and my family will be embarking on a tour of South America and the Galapagos Islands, which has always been a bucket list destination. While there I will have the opportunity to see giant tortoises, a diverse array of endemic bird species, and of course, the world’s only seafaring lizard, the marine iguana. It's going to be one heck of an adventure!

Anything else you’d like to share? 
When you’re a kid with Asperger’s and dyslexia (a neurological disorder and a learning disability) you are referred to as “special needs” a tough label at times. But with the unwavering support of my family and the practical support of Assets school and the caring dedication of its teachers, I have been able to realize that I have “special gifts, talents & skills” that no one else has, and now I have the chance of a career doing what I love with a new title Connar “The Croc Doc.”

If you would like to see what Connar is up to follow him on Instagram @thegamingcaiman

Mayhem, the Reticulated Python, is comfortable around Connar '19.