Life

Meet The Fearless 24-Year-Old Zookeeper Dubbed ‘The Next Steve Irwin’


When most people think of a warm bath, they think of soothing waters, bubbles and pure relaxation. When 24-year-old Michael Holston thinks of a warm bath, he thinks of inviting his pet anaconda to get in on some of that sweet soaking action. And he does! Anacondas love water, after all.

That’s a little reptilian factoid I learned while speaking with Holston about his rise on social media as the fearless, fun-loving zookeeper captivating audiences with his dope animal videos and pics. Whether he’s cuddling with aforementioned anaconda or boldly leaping off a cliff into muddy waters to grab a big-ass turtle with his bare hands, fans can’t get enough of Holston’s antics. They’re already calling him “Tanned Steve Irwin.”

It’s a bold comparison to make. Steve Irwin was/is the GOAT of conservation/acting crazy around feral beasts. But Holston, who also goes by “The Real Tarzann,” doesn’t mind it the least bit. He grew up idolizing Irwin and hopes to become a hero for today’s kids, just like Irwin was to him.

“Day in and day out I strive like many others just to accomplish the things Irwin has done for our wildlife and planet!” Holston says. “I always wanted to be like him… and I still do!”

The Providence, Rhode Island native reveals that his primary goal is also to travel the world like Irwin. “I want to show everybody the smallest wildlife and the most dangerous wildlife,” he says. “Get close as possible. Hold it, hug it, touch it, kiss it.”

Until that dream comes true, however, Holston remains a man with many zoological hats. He currently works as a manager at an exotic reptile farm where he breeds, buys, sells, and rescues reptiles, amphibians, and selected exotic mammals. Using basketball lingo, Holston describes himself as a swingman — if there’s work to be done, he’s on it.

“I basically do everything from build cages, to clean cages, to inventory on animals, to feeding them, watering them, to posting them online, taking pictures, and Photoshopping, and putting watermarks, and answering calls, and taking orders,” he says, without pausing for a breath. “I mean, you name it, and I do it.”

When he’s not chilling at the farm with carnivorous beasts, you can catch Holston tending to tigers, lemurs, and cougars at the Zoological Wildlife Foundation in Miami, Florida as a zookeeper.

“I get trained by veteran zookeepers on how to do enrichment and train with other dangerous animals like chimpanzees, and tigers.”


Attempting to fill the big shoes Steve Irwin tragically left behind in 2006 is no easy feat, but going viral for taking a calming bath with an anaconda does help. Holston — who now has over 160,000 Instagram followers and millions of views — hopes to parlay his success to an appearance on Ellen, and from there, his own Irwin-style show.

“I just started putting some stuff out there on social media, recently,” he says of his rising stardom. “I’ve always been on social media, but I didn’t really put the footwork in of emailing companies, asking them to repost, stuff like that. When I did, I knew I had some mad content. I knew once the world started seeing it, they’d be like, ‘Oh man! This guy! He’s crazy, and he’s black!'”

Yes, there’s that. When most people of think of famous zookeepers, they think of animal lovers like Steve Irwin, Jack Hanna and Bear Grylls. The list never includes anyone who looks like Holston. He’s young, black and has a gang of elaborate tattoos across his upper body. He would probably get “rapper” before he gets pegged as a zookeeper. That perception is something Holston recognizes and wants to help shift.

“I want to show people animals, but do it in a different way that the world ain’t seen yet,” Holston says, passion rising in his voice. “Do it through the eyes of a black man. Do it with swag. Do it with some Yeezys on while playing Drizzy or 2 Chainz in the background. I want to bring that culture with me.”

“I want to show that you can be black and be educated. You can be professional. You can chase your dreams. You don’t got to pick up a basketball or a gun or anything just to fit in. You can be yourself and be different and also still make it and still be just like everybody else. That’s something I want to focus on a lot too.”

Already a busy guy, Holston makes time for kids as a part-time zoology and biology teacher. He travels to different schools and introduces a piece of wildlife to his young students by bringing real animals intoto the classroom.

Naturally, some kids might be too afraid, but Holston helps them overcome their fears by getting up-close and personal with the animals, adding, “I literally bring the spiders, snakes, and frogs, and I put it on them. Like, ‘Here! There’s nothing to be scared of!'”

That same exposure method is how Holston got over his own aversion to spiders. The zookeeper believes fear is a generational thing and uses himself as proof of his theory. Growing up, Holston watched his grandmother and brothers be deathly afraid of spiders, so he developed a distaste for those hairy little critters as well. Then, out of the blue, he realized how ridiculous it was that he could cuddle with giant snakes all day long but be petrified at the sight of a spider.

“For years, I loved all these crazy animals, but every time I see a spider, it freaked me out,” Holston says of his former phobia. “Until one day I’m like, ‘man I gotta fix this.'”

He began studying spiders because — to quote Nas quoting someone else — “people fear what they don’t understand.”

“I started researching them and figuring out their movements and stuff like that,” Holston says. “Spiders are pretty freaking cool!”

Holston’s ability to overcome his fear of spiders, which he admits took time, speaks to just how daring he is when it comes to animals. In fact, the scarier, the better for this bold adventurer, who names the anaconda as his favorite snake.

“Anacondas are super duper dangerous, but they’re right up my alley,” he says, speaking in all exclamations, just like his hero, Irwin. “It’s what I love! I love the most dangerous stuff! I feel like the dangerous stuff keeps me alive. I get to bond with it and create a relationship that not many people would even dare think about.”

The animal lover also admits the viral clip of him bathing with his massive reptilian friend was just for “fun and games.” What he ultimately wanted to achieve in going viral was to “show people that not all snakes are evil snakes.” Sure, his pet anaconda is big enough to kill him, but he isn’t worried about all that.

“I get injured every day. I got scars on scars on scars, and it hurts, but you charge it to the game,” Holston says of his injuries. “It’s what comes with it. It’s like playing football. You know eventually one day you’re going to break some type of bone or you’re going to get hit with a concussion or some type of injury.”

Like Irwin before him, Holston isn’t particularly worried about PETA. The animal rights organization believes zoos and breeding farms are “prisons for animals.” He feels somewhat differently.

“I’m definitely not against people owning animals or zoos having animals, but as long as you’re doing it the right way,” he says. “As long as the animal has the best life possible. As long as the animal has enrichment. You make yourself a part of the animal’s life. You raise that animal. You trust that animal. You let the animal trust you. No matter how dangerous it is, you have that. Whether you rescued it or whether you took it out of the wild.”

However, the young zookeeper does understand the reservations animal rights activists have concerning menageries.

“It’s a weird stance for me because as I get older, I learn more, and I read more. I get more understanding. They used a tranquilizer gun at my zoo one time. The jaguar just had babies, and the male was literally wild. He was a confiscation from someone that was donated. He’ll literally kill you.”

He pauses and gathers his thoughts.

“Look, as long as you’re taking care of these animals at the highest standard, you’re taking great care of them,” he says. “You’re interacting with them. You’re showing them true love.”

For a man so in touch with his wild side, Holston is very in touch with his deeper calling — a calling Steve Irwin would be proud of.

“People know when animals are happy or when they’re not,” he says. “You can look on their face, and you can see it. I want to be successful enough to help them, to give back, man. Spread out love and positivity.”

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