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A love for animals

Jan. 22, 2014 @ 10:37 PM

HUNTINGTON -- Paul Constantino's interests seem routine at first glance, but the degree to which he delves into wildlife, sports and children surpass many creating a mix unique to Appalachia and perhaps beyond.

The 43-year-old, Massachusetts native moved to Huntington approximately three years ago to teach biology at Marshall University. He considers himself perhaps one of few West Virginians still excited to see a white-tailed deer, which is in itself striking considering his lifelong fascination with elephants, hippopotamuses, rhinos and other huge animals that trek across Africa.

But no matter the size, whether it be the redheaded woodpecker in his backyard or a kruger baboon he photographed abroad, Constantino's love for animals is part of larger passion in studying evolution and anthropology. His research focuses upon the evolving human diet and with that comes a necessary focus on teeth and skulls.

Ironically, the evolving capabilities of technology now enables him to use a three-dimension printer costing more than $30,000 to produce skull replicas dating back millions of years. Thanks to the new technology, purchased approximately a year ago, Constantino's shelves now are filled with life-size skull models.

Constantino acknowledged his fixation upon various skulls may strike some as odd, but for him its a career like a legal brief would be to a lawyer.

"By studying the skull you can really get at why did we come to be this way, at what point in our history do we start to change in these directions," he said. "When you're in this field you're dealing with a lot of people that are like you, interested in the same things. Sometimes you forget that not everyone sees the fascination in skulls and not everyone would like to go to Africa and spend months digging in the desert to look for bones."

Constantino's love for animals blends well with his wife, Maricela, who coordinates nationwide wolf recovery efforts from their Huntington home on behalf of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Together they love travel and the outdoors. They hope to embark on a tour of national parks and eventually a trip to Africa with their three children, two girls and a boy ranging from 8 months to 5 years old.

Having children slowed Constantino's frequent visits to Africa, however spending time with each of them is something he cherishes. It was the first item he mentioned when asked about things he enjoys. He said part of that passion stems from a childhood dream of his own -- to be a parent.

"If you don't want to spend time with your kids, I don't know why you have them in the first place," he said.

But for Constantino its more than simply giving the children a hug and kiss. It is more than dropping them off at their daycare, Enterprise Child Development Center. He instead got involved as a parent representative and now serves as the chairman of River Valley Child Development Services' Board of Directors, the daycare's umbrella agency.

"I'm excited that I can contribute to not only the well being of my own kids, but the well being of numerous other kids in this area," he said. "It's very gratifying."

Constantino described sports, like other aspects of his life, a decades long passion. He admits having never possessed the skills or talent of greatness, but his love for volleyball, basketball and soccer never waned. He routinely played volleyball six nights a week as he worked at a biotech corporation in Cambridge, Mass.

A faculty basketball game took its place when Constantino arrived at Marshall University. The group, which gathers three times each week, consists of a various disciplines including history, political science, religious studies and education. He credits the group as his primary way of getting to know others from beyond his department, and those relationships have extended from the basketball court to trick-or-treating with each other's families.

"It's a great group of guys," he said. "It's a great way to stay in shape and not have to run on a treadmill for an hour and a half. I guess I love the competitiveness of it ... I guess I love challenging myself. I love anything where I can get better, better and better."

And it's that competitive, always-wanting-more spirit that drives Constantino's research past what others may consider odd and toward new discoveries about human origin.

"When I worked biotech for five years, I had someone telling me what to do," he said of his move to being a professor. "Nobody is telling me to go to Ethiopia to study fossils. Nobody is telling me to go dig in the deserts of Wyoming or Texas. I do it because I get to choose to do it. I get to do what I love to do, which should really be the goal of anybody's career."

Follow Curtis Johnson at Facebook.com/curtisjohnsonHD and via Twitter @curtisjohnsonHD.

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