New Mexico's Pet ResourceSUMMER/FALL 2001


THE WILD SIDE

ANIMAL LOVER EXTRAORDINAIRE

By Nancy Marano

Keith Gadziala's fascination with snakes began when he was a little boy. He came home with garter snakes by the bucketful, much to his mother's dismay, and read every book he could find on snakes and reptiles.

"Snakes are so cool to watch. I started by holding garter snakes and moved on to bigger snakes. They just mesmerize me," Keith said.

When Keith says "bigger snakes," he means pythons and boa constrictors. He's had two boa constrictors - 8' and 6' long, three ball pythons and one Burmese python. One day he took the Burmese python into Petroglyphs Animal Hospital in Albuquerque. Dr. Hudgell, who specializes in reptiles, told him someone had left an albino Burmese python at the hospital.

"I'd always wanted an albino so I took it with me. It had been in a roadside carnival or circus and was badly abused. It had lots of scars on its back, but the awful thing was that its tongue was pulled out. A python uses its tongue to smell. Snakes find their food by feeling vibrations and using their sense of smell. Because it couldn't sense its food any more, it had difficulty eating. Snakes see motion, but they don't have very good eyesight. I had to make motions the snake could sense and then feed it a live, moving rat. It was the only way it could eat. Maybe it got hurt so badly because it didn't defend itself. Pythons bite to defend themselves, and they have pretty large teeth," Keith explained.

Burmese pythons are the second longest snakes in the world, after the reticulated python, and can grow to be 28'-36' long and weigh 800-1,000 pounds.

"I like boas and pythons because their scales are so small it almost feels as though they have skin," Keith said. "They don't move much but sometimes they would get out of their cage. Since they can climb pretty well, we might find them in a closet or the dishwasher."

Keith likes to educate others about snakes. Once a week he takes the large snakes outdoors so they can crawl in the grass and feel the sun on their skin.

"The neighborhood kids love them. I talk to the kids about snakes and what they need," Keith said. "When I was a kid, I went to every reptile show I could find. The dealers realized how much I liked snakes and let me help out. That's how I got started."

Keith not only rescues snakes but is also the proud owner of a bull terrier he rescued from the freeway near Isleta.

Currently, Keith is a graphic design and illustration student at The Art Center in Albuquerque. He also works at Intermountain Color, the firm that prints Petroglyphs.

"If I could tell people one thing about snakes," Keith said, "it's not to be afraid of them. They should experience a snake's beauty instead. If they want to buy a snake, they should read about them, talk to people and get a lot of advice ahead of time."



THE WILD SIDE ON-LINE

FEARS AND CHEERS FOR RATTLESNAKES

By Bob Myers, Director
American International Rattlesnake Museum

"I can't bear to go hiking. I get chills and a sense of fear overwhelms me. I hate snakes. I can't even stand looking at a picture of a snake in a book. They're evil, ugly and mean. I wish there were no snakes in the world. It would be a much better place to live. In my opinion, the only good snake is a dead snake!"

I hear this attitude repeated day after day. In my business, where rattlesnakes are the subject at hand, I am forced to listen to negative comments as they roll off the tongues of visitors to the Rattlesnake Museum. And then, on rare occasions, a guest with a more enlightened viewpoint, one who understands the role played by misunderstood predators such as the rattlesnake, approaches me.

Truth be known, the rattlesnake is a shy, reclusive reptile with a propensity for seclusion. He would rather hide than fight and aggression certainly is not in his reptilian vocabulary. I get a private chuckle every time I hear that a rattlesnake has chased someone, knowing that rattlesnakes have an innate fear of man. I imagine an individual with an overactive imagination, trying to escape the danger, sure that the one pound serpent is closing in on its 150 pound human prey, never looking back for fear of loosing distance. I further imagine a relieved snake, thankful for misplaced fears.

The rattlesnake's best defense is to remain still and rely on cryptic coloration to conceal its position. The rattle is used only when danger is imminent and a threat is perceived. An onlooker may create such a threat by stopping to examine, poke, prod or assault the snake in some way. Most snake bites are the result of such unnecessary encounters. Other bites occur when a rattlesnake is stepped on and the snake responds. But this, too, is simply a means of survival and is purely defensive.

Snakebites are rare. And death from venomous snakebites in this country is rarer still. About one in a thousand bites end in death. That is about 8 per year on average. On the other end of the scale, half a million individuals die from lung cancer each year. So why do we devote any time at all to opidiophobia, the fear of snakes? Is this a fear we inherit? Or do we learn it?

Personally, I have seldom seen a two-year-old with a noticeable fear when introduced to a non-venomous snake. However, I commonly speak with adults with mild to serious foreboding. Most speak of the day when an insidious friend or relative frightened them with a life, or even an artificial, snake. Movies certainly don't help. Snakes are always depicted as offensive creatures with vindictiveness on their evil little minds. I would suggest that these Hollywood serpents are given far more credit for reasoning and logic than their tiny little brain allows. They do quite well to concentrate on food and shelter. What an amazing predator this is, who can secure its prey in total darkness and without a drop of bloodshed. What a true ally to keep the rodent populations in check. With hanta virus, plague and rabies in the news, perhaps a word of thanks is more appropriate.

I enjoy encounters with wildlife. The glimpse of a wild rattlesnake is no different. They intrigue and excite the senses. And, given proper distance, they are no more dangerous than the log they traverse. Their differences fascinate me. Why should I fear this handicapped vertebrate, when a little respect goes so far? I am convinced the only good snake is a live snake!


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