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Zoo Keeping, Military, Truck Driving

By on July 1, 2017


One thing John Cottingham can say with certainty about his professional pursuits—and even his entire life—is that he’s never experienced a dull moment. He was born in Seoul, South Korea during his father’s stint there as an Air Force officer. The family subsequently lived in Japan for a couple of years, before moving stateside. His father retired from an assignment at the Pentagon, headquarters for the U.S. Department of Defense in Arlington, VA, just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC. John grew up in nearby Hayfield Farms, VA.

John’s lifelong love of animals, reptiles and, more specifically, snakes started at age 4 when he and his dad came upon a Kingsnake in their backyard. That interest grew and his father helped instill a healthy respect for snakes of all sizes and types, venomous and non-venomous. In May of 1989, John moved to Gainesville, FL where he enrolled at the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo. It had a wide range of animals used to teach a general background in professional zoo keeping. His ultimate goal was to become a breeding specialist for exotic and endangered animals.

Upon graduation, he was accepted at the Houston Zoo, which was working on a program that matched his interests. Although that program ended before his first day on the job, his dampened enthusiasm was rekindled by an assignment to work with large snakes including pythons, Boa Constrictors, Bearded Dragons, White’s Treefrogs, Prairie Rattlesnakes and others. Cobras were the most aggressive snakes that he encountered. In Gainesville and Houston, he even had his own reptile business, owning more than 100 snakes at one point. He was bitten twice by venomous snakes, recovering quickly from the first bite by a Southern Copperhead.

He even gained some notoriety with a giant tortoise under his care at the Houston Zoo that had a small part in Sidekicks, a 1992 action flick featuring Chuck Norris, Jonathan Brandis, Joe Piscopo and Mako. When he went to the local premier in Springfield, VA with friends, he mentioned his tortoise’s involvement to one of the theater’s staff members. It just so happened that Chuck Norris was also present. John and his friends were introduced to Norris, and they shared their experiences making the film.

In a December 2016 email to the RoadKing editor, John indicated some big cats featured in a quiz had been slightly misidentified in the annual Family issue. Based on his days as a zoo keeper, he felt he should say something. That email started a conversation that resulted in the development of this story. That’s how simple it can be to bring your life’s story, your hobbies or recreational pursuits, or just about anything else to the attention of the RoadKing editorial staff.

Second Bite, One Too Many

Jumping ahead to his military days, he almost died after being bitten by a Canebrake Rattlesnake in Georgia. When a doctor administered three vials of anti-venom, John appeared to be having an allergic reaction. However, the one-hour treatment continued with six more vials of anti-venom. After being stabilized, the doctor told him the medical staff had never seen anyone that close to dying who didn’t actually die. His blood pressure had fallen to as low as 70 over 50. Knowing the risks full well, he didn’t blame the snake for his mistake.

John served on active duty in the U.S. Army from early 1992 through 1999. His skills as an imagery analyst were put to good use dissecting aerial photography as related to a wide range of military objectives. While he doesn’t care to speak in any detail about his responsibilities, they were considered valuable enough to retain his services for another 13 years as a defense contractor. He also spent six of those years in the Reserves. When his slot was eliminated, John unexpectedly found himself unemployed. Weeks tuned into months, then into two and half years.

A Third Calling

Not wanting to officially call it quits and move into retirement, John decided it was not too late to enter the trucking profession. His research indicated it was one of the few things he could train for quickly on his return to gainful employment. Upon graduation from Shippers Choice in Newport News, VA, he obtained his CDL and signed on with Covenant Transport in August 2015. A switch to J.B. Hunt early this year provided a role in supply chain distribution to military commissaries and some retail discounters engaged in a variety of goods.

John operates out of J.B. Hunt’s Oklahoma City terminal, and his runs are of a regional nature extending from Louisiana to New Mexico and northward. For some runs, he drives a day cab, for others a sleeper. Every time he picks up a load, he heads for the nearest CAT Scale to make sure the weight is properly distributed. John feels the team he works with operates as one big family and is second to none.

“I’ve really adapted well to the world of OTR trucking,” said John. “Many of the skills learned as a zoo keeper and in the military carry over to my responsibilities with shippers and their customers. Safety is the number one priority in all three, whether its your own or others who may be influenced by your actions and decisions. Per the accompanying list, I stay mentally alert by identifying the birds, reptiles and animals on the highways and byways. My days are filled with details involving destinations, route mapping, delivery times, delivery specifics, paperwork, logbooks, and other driver responsibilities. In professional truck driving, I’ve found a career path that will take me into retirement.”

SEEN on the ROAD


  • Bald Eagle
  • Barn Owl
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Black Vulture
  • Blue Jay
  • Bow-tailed Grackle
  • Canadian Goose
  • Cooper’s Hawk
  • Crow
  • Eastern Wild Turkey
  • Golden Eagle
  • Great Horned Owl
  • Guinea Fowl
  • Harris Hawk
  • Kestrel
  • Mallard Duck
  • Magpie
  • Merriam’s Wild Turkey
  • Morning Dove
  • Osceola Wild Turkey
  • Osprey
  • Peregrine Falcon
  • Raven
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Red Shouldered Hawk
  • Red-winged Black Bird
  • Rio Grand Wild Turkey
  • Ring Necked Pheasant
  • Roughed Grouse
  • Scaled Quail
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk
  • Starling
  • Turkey Vulture
  • White Egret
  • Sand Hill Crane
  • Scissor-tailed Flycatcher


  • Alpaca
  • Armadillo
  • Badger
  • Beaver
  • Bison
  • Black Bear
  • Black-tailed Deer
  • Cougar
  • Big Horn Sheep Collard Peccary
  • Cottontail Rabbit
  • Elk
  • Farm Pig (fell off truck)
  • Feral Hog
  • Fox
  • Grizzly Bear
  • Ground Squirrel
  • Jack Rabbit
  • Kit Fox
  • Llama
  • Moose
  • Mule Deer
  • Opossum
  • Otter
  • Porcupine
  • Prairie Dog
  • Pronghorn Antelope
  • Skunk
  • White-tailed Deer
  • Wolf


  • American Alligator
  • Black Rat Snake
  • Broad Headed Skink
  • Canebrake Rattlesnake
  • Common Snapping Turtle
  • Diamondback Terrapin
  • Eastern Box Turtle
  • Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake
  • Eastern or Blotched Kingsnake
  • Eastern River Cooter
  • Gopher / Bull Snake
  • Gopher Tortoise
  • Mediterranean Gecko
  • Mojave Rattlesnake
  • Red Eared Slider
  • Southern Black Racer
  • Spiny Soft Shelled Turtle
  • 3 Toed Box Turtle
  • Northern Black Racer
  • Western Coachwhip
  • Western Diamondback Rattlesnake
  • Western Hognosed Snake
  • Western Mud Snake


  • Largemouth Bass
  • Male Tarantula
  • Bull Frog (Jeremiah)
  • A Road Runner
  • And a Coyote (Wile E)


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