Laszlo Award

Joseph Laszlo Award


Many individuals were fortunate to have known the late Joseph Laszlo, long-term Superintendent of the Department of Reptiles at the San Antonio Zoo, San Antonio, Texas.

In recognition of his lifelong achievements in and contributions to herpetology, especially in herpetoculture, the International Herpetological Symposium, Inc. has bestowed an annual award in his name.

The Joseph Laszlo Memorial award is presented to the speaker at the IHS meeting who has demonstrated that his or her work represents new and exciting views and advances in herpetology. For information on the interesting life of Joseph Laszlo, an obituary is published in Herpetological Review, 19,5-6 (1988).

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The following individuals have received the Joseph Laszlo Memorial Award

1991 Seattle, WA – Richard Shine, PhD.,University of Sydney, Australia

1992 St. Louis, MO – Brian A. Kend

1993 Miami, FL – Dr. Hans-George Horn, Germany

1994 New Orleans, LA – Dante Fenolio/Michael Ready, Los Angeles, CA

1995 Denver, CO – Ross M. Prazant, DVM/Phillipe DeVosjoli

1996 San Antonio, TX – David Grow, Oklahoma City Zoo1997 Liberia, Costa Rica – Allen E. Anderson, Norwalk, Iowa

1998 Cincinnati, OH – Harry Greene PhD, University of California, Berkeley

1999 San Diego, CA – Carlos H. Arevalo Gtez, Guadalajara Zoo

2000 New Orleans, LA – Gregory C. Lepera, Jacksonville Zoological Gardens

2001 Detroit, MI – Scott J. Stahl, DVM, Eastern Exotic Veterinary Center, Fairfax, VA

2002 St. Louis, MO – John Brueggen, General Curator, St. Augustine Alligator Farm,
St. Augustine, FL

2003 Houston, TX – Bill Love, Blue Chameleon Ventures, Alva, FL

2004 Daytona Beach, FL – Stephen P. Mackessy PhD, University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, CO

2005 Phoenix, AZ – Dante Fenolio, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL

2006 San Antonio, TX – David Lazcano Jr. PhD, Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo León, México

2007 Toronto, Canada – Ray E. Ashton, Jr., Ashton Biodiversity Research & Preservation Inst., Newberry, FL

2008 Nashville, TN – Wayne Hill, National Reptile Breeders’ Expo, Winter Haven, FL

2010 Tucson, AZ – Carl J. Franklin, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX

2011 Forth Worth, TX – Alan Kardon, San Antonio Zoo, San Antonio, TX

2012 Baltimore, MD – Marie Rush DVM

2013 New Orleans, LA -Chawna Schuett, Saint Louis Zoo, St Louis, MO

2014 Riverside, CA – Philippe De Vosjoil, San Diego CA

2015 San Antonio, TX – Colette Adams, Gladys Porter Zoo, Brownsville, TX

2016 Saint Louis, MO – Roger Sweeney, Virginia Zoo, Norfolk, VA

2017 Rodeo, NM – Robert Mendyk, Jacksonville Zoo, Jacksonville, FL

2018 Houston, TX – Micha Petty, Louisiana Exotic Animal Resource Network, LA


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Career of Joe Laszlo

By James Murphy



Joe Laszlo was a remarkable person by any standard. During his childhood in Budapest during World War II, he dealt with issues of survival virtually unknown to most of us. Joe told me that his family had to feed on dead horses killed during a bombing raid and he vowed that he would never suffer the pangs of hunger ever again. In spite of these hardships, he had a strong interest in all things herpetological. Later in life, he was drafted into the Russian army which occupied Hungary. His responsibility was to guard an ammunition dump owned by the Russians but he turned over the facility to the Hungarian Freedom Fighters in 1957. There was only one choice thereafter: leave the country immediately. He hid in a hay truck under the bales but suffered acute allergies which caused him to have a bout of sneezing and coughing; fortunately the border guards did not notice and he eventually ended up in the USA. Joe did not know English so when he arrived, he got a bunch of herp journals, recorded authors’ addresses and purchased a Greyhound Bus ticket to take a nationwide journey to meet his potential colleagues. With gestures, knowledge of scientific names, and broken English, he was gradually able to communicate with others. He learned English but had a strong Hungarian accent. Joe had the most charming way of talking about his passions, punctuated with malapropisms, and he captivated audiences constantly. At herp meetings, Joe would be surrounded by a group of admirers, hanging on his every word.

His first zoo job was at Metro Miami as a keeper. His second was briefly at Columbus Zoo where he told the volatile curator Lou Pistoia that the eyelash viper had a stuck shed and no good reptile man would let that Joe Laszlo left and James Murphy in 1982 happen; Lou fired him on the spot. His next job was the assistant herpetological supervisor’s job at Ft. Worth Zoo under the equally volatile John Mehrtens. When I came to visit, he had been disciplined by Mehrtens for an infraction so he was told to clean the floor of the entire rear section with a toothbrush; again, his stay was brief so he went next to the Houston Zoo as a keeper. He was insistent about the need to cool Temperate Zone squamates to elicit reproduction; Joe convinced his superiors to buy equipment to test his theories. One day, I asked him how he would keep dinosaurs if these creatures existed today: “You gotta keep them cool, mon.”

He was passionate about Neotropical pitvipers, especially those known as Bothrops in those early days. He was asked about the secrets of keeping such a large number of them at the Zoo. He said that he knew about all important parameters; humidity, security, diet, parasites, temperature, reproductive biology and so on. There was only one problem identified by Joe but we were assured that it was minor. Naturally we asked what this minor problem was-“They die, mon!”

His last job was curator at San Antonio Zoo. During the 1980s, one of the finest collections of living true vipers ever was assembled there. Through Joe’s efforts, the Zoo became recognized as a place where a number of viperid taxa rarely seen could be appreciated. His contribution to our understanding of the captive management of European vipers was critical.

Joe’s office was in the center section of the reptile building. Piles of reprints, correspondence and handwritten notes littered his desk. To breed vipers, Laszlo was convinced that the interface between temperature and light was important for success. The off-exhibit area being small, he was unable to build a spacious hibernaculum to cool his vipers so he installed a soft drink cooler instead to house the animals. Banks of fluorescent lights were suspended everywhere with an array of different bulbs which he was testing. Racks of shoe boxes and terrariums held a bewildering assortment of vipers. Joe was sure to call whenever he acquired any new viper, especially from Europe, and I still remember his excitement and enthusiasm when his first Armenian vipers (Montivipera raddei) came to the Zoo.

One day when I visited, he was perplexed because he had just hung an air conditioner from the ceiling in the rear section but the temperature was not dropping. I suggested that he install an exhaust duct to the outside!

When Joe’s daughter and my son were born a few months apart, I suggested than one of us call the other when the first one uttered their first words. One day, he called and said that his darling daughter had just spoken. When I asked what she had said, Joe proudly repeated her utterance-“Burger King!”

When he died unexpectedly in 1987, his loss cast an unbelievable gloom in the zoo community; he was truly beloved. I contacted dozens of my colleagues to ask for letters of reminiscences and descriptions of his importance to herpetoculture to send to his daughter in a bound volume. Well over a hundred arrived and the respect, love, and affection contained in those letters were stunning testament to his importance in captive management and his willingness to share all of his findings with others. What a perfect way for IHS to honor his accomplishments-name an award in his name. He was my first herpetological friend to die and I still miss him.

Murphy (1988. In memoriam. Joseph Laszlo. Herpetol. Rev. 19(1):5-6) and Card and Murphy (2000. Lineages of zoo herpetologists in the United States. SSAR Herpetological Circulars No. 27:1-44) for details of his life and contributions to herpetology.