Herb Ellerbrock, reptile keeper who helped bring Komodo Dragon to Pittsburgh Zoo, dies at 73

Herb Ellerbrock’s fascination with reptiles was so intense as a kid growing up in Sharpsburg, his parents hung a sign outside their home and turned the front room into a shop for him to collect and sell snakes.

That shop helped fuel the boy’s passion for reptiles and amphibians and led to a 50-year career at the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium as a reptile keeper.

Herbert E. Ellerbrock Jr. died on Monday, Feb. 7. He was 73.

Pittsburgh Zoo curator Henry Kacprzyk said long before he met Ellerbrock, he was influenced by him to become a caretaker for animals.

“I remember seeing Herbie on the Safari TV show when he would bring reptiles on,” he said. “Many years later after I got hired at the zoo, we passed each other while walking on a path and it felt like a bit of a thrill to meet him because I admired him.”

Kacprzyk said that first meeting with Ellerbrock led to a decades-long friendship.

In addition to the daily tasks of caring for the zoo’s extensive collection of reptiles and amphibians, Ellerbrock enjoyed opportunities he had to teach others about those mysterious creatures during appearances on Safari as well as “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

Ellerbrock started the Pittsburgh Reptile Show in 1989. It grew steadily over the years and draws an average of 1,500 visitors.

Ellerbrock also was the founder of the nonprofit Pittsburgh Herpetological Society in 1997, which focused on promoting positive and ethical treatment of reptiles and amphibians.

He traveled extensively for expeditions with his wife to meet with leading herpetologists in Texas, Colorado, Costa Rica and Bali.

Ellerbrock also made several trips to the island of Komodo in Indonesia to assist with the zoo’s efforts to adopt its first Komodo Dragon, “Noname,” in 1993.

“There was no guarantee that were going to be able to get one of the two Komodos that were available, so it was a great source of pride for Herbie when the one we called Noname arrived in Pittsburgh,” Kacprzyk said. “He loved working with reptiles and raised that Komodo like someone would raise a house pet.”

In addition to his work with reptiles, Ellerbrock was an avid skier. He and his wife served for a number of years as members of the ski patrol at the Seven Springs Resort.

He also was a lifetime member of the Aspinwall Fire Department and was an emergency medical technician for the Foxwall Ambulance Service.

In addition to his parents, Ellerbrock was preceded in death by his wife, Mercedes “Dolly” Gigante Ellerbrock.

Visitors will be received at Worrell Funeral Home on Main Street in Sharpsburg from 2 to 7 pm on Friday.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11 am on Saturday at St. Raphael’s Church, Morningside, Pittsburgh.

Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tony at 724-772-6368, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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