THE LIFE AND TIMES OF REPTILES THAT WORK FOR A LIVING
488 Park Road
Park Orchards, Victoria, 3114, Australia.
Originally Published in hard copy in Bulletin of the Chicago Herpetological Society 43(9)(September 2008):142-148.
This article deals with reptiles that are used for live reptile shows, exhibitions and lectures and how they cope with the changed conditions and lifestyle. It also deals with various related issues from the perspective of the keeper.
At end 2003 I acquired a permit to do live reptile shows in Australia.
Like most herpetological activities, it seemed easy at the start, but soon became more complicated.
The idea began as a result of friends getting out of the reptile display business and some telling me that I should fill their shoes.
It all made sense and at first seemed really easy.
A few live reptiles and the rest should be like A,B,C,!
That's what I thought anyway.
But, it wasn't quite like that.
First I did my sums.
I needed one of each of the local deadly snakes, as the deadly snake shows are what everyone else wanted.
Namely (Red-bellied) Black (Pseudechis porphyriacus), (Eastern) Brown (Pseudonaja textilis), Tiger (Notechis scutatus) and Copperhead (Austrelaps superbus). Another snake I should have, the Death Adder (Acanthophis antarcticus) I already had, so at least I didn't need to acquire any of them.
I also needed a few of the harmless pythons and a few lizards.
From a cost point of view I was lucky. All I could get from friends for next to nothing, except for the pythons that actually cost money.
Fortunately I had a Diamond and Carpet (Morelia spp.) already and so I thought I was OK for these snakes.
I then got told I needed to "rotate" snakes. After all what happens if one is off colour, just fed or something?
Yes, two of each made sense and so I upped the number to two of everything.
Then came the Tiger Snakes.
They are king of Melbourne (where I live) and vary in colour and so I grudgingly decided I needed four. Fortunately the people who have Tiger Snakes can't give them away and so two rapidly turned to four and before I knew it I soon had ten in the house.
I would have got more, but the limit for adults of each taxa under my permit was ten.
Number of the other taxa went up as well.
Why so many?
Well besides the need to "rotate" snakes, actually that wasn't a major issue after all, was the more pressing need to have an impressive show … more on this shortly.
Handling one deadly snake is half impressive. Ten at once is what the public really wants!
Believe me, if you want to see jaws drop, just see what happens when you grab a fistful of deadlies and have them draped all over your arm.
Well that was another unforeseen headache.
At first I thought a few would get me through.
If you do a "hands on" talk for a class of thirty kids, they all want to hold a Bluetongue lizard (Tiliqua scincoides) and "now".
One soon turned to five. Plus two Blotched Bluetongues (T. nigrolutea), Shinglebacks (Trachydosaurus rugosus), Cunningham's Skinks (Egernia cunninghami)…
Lizards are far more labor intensive than snakes. Not only can't you get away with feeding them only every week or two, but they make a mess of their cages as well.
I steered clear of the Bearded Dragons as they needed insects and sunlight and that to me simply read "work".
Instead I kept to the big slow-moving skinks, all of which can thrive in a large plastic tub … just like the snakes.
In other words, for cages, one size fitted all!
Three racks gave me enough cage space for everything with space left over!
The first hurdle
After running around Australia gathering up everyone else's unwanted reptiles, I had what appeared to be a suitable collection.
Included in this motley collection were "poor doing" captives, wild-caught disease bags and even a trio of Red-bellied Black Snakes carrying what's now become known as "Weigel's curse".
That's the reovirus that's decimated a number of private collections in Australia since 2002.
In short, for me this meant a load of extra work in the form of drug treatments to clean out and otherwise fix sub-perfect reptiles.
More work to feed them and get them into shape for shows.
After all I only wanted the best snakes and lizards to go on show.
For most reptiles, it was some months to get them looking the part.
FREE-HANDLING VENOMOUS SNAKES
Then there was the show I intended doing.
Here in Australia, the typical reptile show starts with the venomous snakes and ends with the harmless ones, and perhaps a few lizards as well.
Venomous snakes always get featured because they are so common here and are a real risk for many people.
People have a morbid fascination with things that can kill them.
This also explains the over-emphasis by the media in terms of terrorism, even though the average person is about 1,000 times more likely to be killed by a car or 1,000,000 times more likely to die from cancer.
Most reptile shows here in Australia have the handler bring out one snake at a time. They tell the audience that the snake is deadly and they are "tough" because they can actually handle the snake and then they put it back in the bag, before another snake is pulled from another bag. Eventually the series of species is done and the snake man gets a round of applause.
Sure it entertains, but there was one snake handler here who did far better than that.
This was Fred Rossignolli. He simply brought out a whole swag of deadly snakes (several of each species) and he free handled the lot (usually at once) and literally wowed the audience.
Not only that, but the audience got a far better show because they could actually see the different kinds lined up togeather for direct comparison.
Now Fred never big-noted himself or said he was good because he free-handled his snakes. Quite the contrary, he made it clear he got bitten all the time and that was the price he paid for sloppy handling. As it happens, with a couple of exceptions, most of his bites came at home when handling snakes after handling rodents.
Put bluntly, Fred's shows were best and nothing else came close.
Now if I wanted to do a show that was even half as good as his, I had to emulate his free handling.
I also needed to have several of the important species to show at once!
Hence my upping the number of reptiles I needed to have.
Now for those who don't know, there is no great skill in free-handling a venomous snake.
The snakes themselves either don't know they are venomous or don't care. In fact they handle much the same way as non-venomous snakes. The only difference is that if a non-venomous snake bites you, you wipe off the teeth and say "sorry".
But if a venomous snake bites you, you may get sick or die.
Fred took that risk daily and frankly I lacked the intestinal fortitude to make a habit of free handling my most dangerous snakes (especially the Eastern Browns).
To cut a long story short, I pioneered successful venomoid surgery in Australia (see Hoser 2004, or Hoser 2005), the result being all the venomous snakes I used for my shows had their venom glands removed.
My regular critics called it the coward's way out of the problem, but for me it made good sense.
Hence I was able to free-handle snakes without risk of death from bite (yes they could still bite) and I was able to do a show as good as (or even better?) than Fred's.
Well Fred still had to keep some snakes away from others because they had a habit of biting and killing one another (different species aren't usually immune to other species venoms) and at all times he had to be mindful of the risk when handling different species in proximity.
For me, that risk evaporated.
In fact I could even pull a Diamond Python out of the same box as a Tiger Snake or Copperhead!
That tended to spook out the herpers in the crowd!
But that did add to my angst in terms of when I started.
The time taken to neuter 20 odd snakes is quite substantial.
In fact it took many days!
Then of course there was the follow-up.
In the first instance there was a lot of "wait and see".
As it happens all the snakes came good and without incident, but there was some anxiety as I used freshly neutered snakes within days of being operated on and with sutures still in their mouths.
It turned out, no one ever knew the difference.
But let me share something with you.
Doing a show with about 20 venomoid snakes, the climax being to hold all or most at once, and without fear of being bitten and killed really does take the stress out of the whole affair.
The audience generally isn't told that the snakes are harmless, but the people paying for the show usually are.
This way, the work safety officials can take a deep breath and not have heart attacks as they wait for me to get chomped and carted off to hospital.
As to why the audience weren't told that the snakes had been "fixed" well that was simple. They didn't ask. If I was asked during a show, I'd say "yes" and leave it at that.
But the problem with otherwise telling the audience that the snakes were "fixed" was because this would lead people to think that the snakes weren't biting me because they were "fixed", when in fact that had nothing to do with it.
You see the snakes didn't have the brain power to realise they were venomous or now non-venomous in the first place and/or the ramifications of their venomous or non-venomous state if they did know.
The exception to the above was for shows aimed at young children, in which case they were told the snakes had been "devenomed".
The real benefit of the venomoiding wasn’t however the human safety. In fact it was the snakes who benefited from a lifetime without being tailed, necked, pinned or hooked. Even the most “ferocious” of species (Browns and Taipans) soon became as placid as a pussy cat when they realized that they’d always be free handled with care and dignity!
DOING THE SHOWS
Doing the snake and reptile shows was easy.
When you've been in the reptile game as long as me, it's as simple as pull the reptile out of the box and start yapping.
That part's as easy as falling off a log.
How many herpers do you know that can't talk herp?
The harder part was dealing with things like the weather and the legal requirements.
Locking box to transport the critters (I needed more than one) and signs, labels and the like.
More reptiles meant more bags and boxes.
Then there were signs, mobile clocks, a pit, rope barriers, backdrop signage and before you knew it, lots of things needed in a hurry.
To make myself known I had to advertise, build websites, print fliers and all this before a single show!
My first "show" was on an oppressively hot day and so I spent the entire time hiding from the sun and keeping the reptiles on ice.
They coped better than me.
I was badly sunburnt.
I needed to add sunscreen to my snakeshow kit!
My second show was a dream run in that it was cloudy and I was indoors as well.
The third show was on a day forecast to be cool that turned out to be hot and again I had to play cat and mouse with the sun.
The fourth and fifth shows were on a very hot day and using ice-sheets in the snake boxes I kept them cool as cucumbers all day.
In fact, it was amazing as in 31 degree Celsius heat at the Sandringham Bayside Festival I was able to place a collection of deadly elapids on a table and all of them, including a formerly crazy Eastern Brown Snake (aren't they all?) sat still until I grabbed them all as a bundle and put them into a plastic box.
Remember they were all venomoid!
HANDLING THE REPTILES
Does handling stress the snakes and lizards?
Yes and no.
In terms of the reptiles I handle, the answer is effectively no.
As an experienced reptile handler and handling non-dangerous reptiles (including venomoid), the reptiles are never unduly restrained or rough handled.
Pinning sticks weren't necessary in my shows!
Reptiles are handled so often for shows and the like, that they have no fear or stress being handled and hence become perfectly adjusted to doing shows, being transported and the like.
If anything stresses them at all, it is when I (deliberately) pack them among one another.
Reptiles prefer to be on their own and this part of the trip (being together) stresses them out far more than my handling them.
This is perhaps best noticed when I pick up a snake and put it down again.
Assuming I pick it up alone, the snake has no stress or fear when handled. However as I put it down, if it sees another snake or is close to it, it will arc up and move into a fear posture.
Similar applies for lizards.
In terms of the "innocuous" reptiles that I allow other people to handle, well they do cop quite a hiding!
They get dropped, thumped and generally mishandled by people.
Included here are the adults with irrational fears who will drop a lizard they are holding the moment it actually moves!
Included are the two year olds you may have to stop from trying to eat the reptile.
Generally I use slow-moving placid species like Shinglebacks, Bluetongues and the like and by and large they all take it in their stride.
The only thing I've found I've had to watch for is in terms of the heavy reptiles.
When dropped they hurt themselves (yes they bleed) and so I will tend not to allow them to be handled at times this is likely or possible.
On the other hand something like a half-grown Bluetongue has so little body weight that even if dropped it doesn't get enough velocity to hurt itself.
Now in terms of Shinglebacks hurting themselves, I am talking about falling on their head and bleeding from the mouth. In terms of permanent damage or injury, so far all reptiles have escaped this.
This is amazing as crocodiles do not “bounce” as well as the squamates and chelonians are obviously not designed to be dropped onto a hard surface.
At one event a Crocodile was trodden on. At another a gravid Shingleback was trodden on. Both survived. The shingleback gave birth to two lovely babies that were apparently normal. The significance of that was that a male Blotched Bluetonge was seen mating her some months earlier.
Obviously one of the male Shinglebacks got to her first!
As reptiles do more and more shows (mine tend to work on a near daily basis), they lose all fear and evidence of stress and this is regardless of how much handling by members of the public.
Obviously one fresh at the job needed to be treated differently to a seasoned performer, but effectively without exception, all ended up fitting into the role of travelling show reptile.
THE NEXT DAY
Not only are reptiles not unduly stressed by the constant handling (notwithstanding that which I wrote immediately above), but they in fact take it in their stride.
By and large they become increasingly pleasant, easy to handle and tractable.
This includes the venomous (and/or venomoid) snakes.
That explains why people like Fred Rossignolli can handle the deadlies day in and day out without getting bitten.
However there is one thing I have noticed in terms of the reptiles that go on the shows.
The day after a show, or series of them, they have a greater than usual appetite.
All the movement and activity is above what they would otherwise get and they literally work up an appetite.
Of all things, this is the only really measurable effect of reptiles that go on show.
Well after six months of three to four shows a week (average), including an average of at least one intensive full-day gig involving continual handling, the score for the reptiles was as follows: No casualties and all in prime health and condition. More on this shortly.
Then there's mites.
These are the scourge of the keepers who do reptile shows and within my first five shows I picked up some mites as well.
I knew this was coming and so I was ready for it.
Another reptile exhibitor, Phil Grono, actually sprays his show reptiles (that have been handled by the public) for mites at the end of every show he does.
For years Fred didn’t and as a result he was always getting them in his collection and fighting them there.
Ditto for most other exhibitors.
I was geared to have the Grono protocol for myself, but in the first instance did nothing just to see how long it'd take me to get the mites.
As I said, after my fifth show I noticed raised scales in some Bluetongue Lizards and a Copperhead.
Sure enough a closer inspection revealed mites and I treated my entire collection.
As to where they come from, that's easy.
Other reptile keepers (usually novices) with mite infested snakes and lizards come along to the shows and handle your reptiles and then give you their mites.
Mites being mites multiply and before you know it, you have an infestation.
In fact, mites are probably the most serious hazard facing reptiles that travel for shows.
THE MITE TREATMENT
In my situation it started as follows.
At the end of the day's showing of reptiles, all are packed into their boxes. For most these are 30 cm long plastic containers known as "click-clacks". These are shoebox size containers like those used by snakies worldwide. Then I grab a can of "Top-of-descent" aircraft spray. This is used to spray aircraft cabins to kill insects. I point the spray at the snakes or lizards in their boxes and briefly spray at them (about one second only).
The spray vaporises and by the time I do all boxes in the larger carry box, the whole lot smells of the spray. The large carry box is closed and the reptiles literally stew in the fumes for the hour or so it takes to drive home.
The reptiles are then removed and placed back in their cages.
The result to date: No more mite infestations and no reptile casualties or suffering.
Before I adopted this routine (in the first few months) I brought in mites several times and had to fight rearguard actions to keep them out of my entire collection.
Put another way, for me, prevention was a lot simpler than cure.
The spray is apparently harmful if drank, but show reptiles are not allowed drink (for up to a day) and the reptiles don't suffer. As the reptiles don't have drink available when sprayed, there is no risk of drinking and ingestion.
If spraying cages at home, the water bowls should be removed first, emptied and then placed back in the cage. You see the mites may be on the sides of the container.
As to why I use the spray as a mite treatment/preventative, well that's easy. A load of reptiles can be treated quickly and at once in a way that few if any other treatments can do.
Also, due to the airborne nature of the spray, it leaves no fluids or grime.
Later on I realised that it was quicker not to spray the boxed reptiles individually, but rather to load all into to the large metallic carrying box which while not airtight is nearly so.
The interior of the box is sprayed and then slammed shut.
It gave a better treatment and used less spray per session.
The devastating effect of mites is worth relating here.
Snakes subjected to venomoid surgery, rarely missed a beat in that they continued to act normally even immediately after surgery, including in terms of their feeding, which is of course a good indicator of their state of mind and well-being.
(By way of example, the most recent crop of operated on snakes (5 snakes) "voided" all were offered food and ate normally 24 hours after the operation and with sutures in their mouths.
However when I brought mites into the collection (via the shows), one black dot on a snake seemed to be enough to stop it feeding.
I recall once that two Tiger Snakes and a pair of young Carpet Snakes knocked back food at a time they were expected to eat.
I failed to realize the ramifications of what had happened, putting it down to a normal aberration of behaviour.
However, the next day when handling one of the tiger snakes I found a single mite on it's neck. All snakes were treated for mites and sure enough they all ate the day after!
Mites really were the number one show hazard!
Bob Withey had a Black-headed Python stolen from an exhibit he had going at the Highpoint Shopping Mall, Melbourne a few years back. The snake wasn't recovered. Fred Rossignolli's lost a few lizards in his time as well.
He is big on "hands on" as in letting people handle Bluetongues and the like and when there's one Fred and 20 lizards out being handled, it's hard to keep an eye on them.
Especially if you have pythons out being handled as well!
They are more valuable and as a result they are watched closely and the lizards easily overlooked.
My first loss was on my third show.
It was at the Red Hill Agricultural Show at Arthur's Seat (Victoria).
This was a huge festival with thousands of people and I had ten lizards out being handled by people coming and going at the same time as a couple of pythons.
When I recalled the lizards, one (the nicest) was missing.
The kids that stole this lizard also raided other exhibitors at the show.
I sincerely doubt that the lizard would have gone to as good a home as the one it left.
Or perhaps I'd be better off saying, I don't think it's long term health prospects were as good.
Several months later I had a Carpet Snake stolen, so was forced to rethink my "hands-on" at large outdoor events.
I printed a couple of signs with "rules" the central one being that a person had to hand in their driver's licence or other "ID" before being given a reptile to handle. Instead of counting snakes and lizards, I merely had to take and hand back licences and after a year of doing this have yet to lose another reptile.
Since then we microchipped all the snakes (venomoids, pythons, the lot!), but that was a result of Government edict, not our personal choice.
While touted as a security device, microchips are nearly as easy to remove as insert and hence not a deterrent to thieves.
Then there's that other trick Fred had and Fred himself didn't even know about.
It's generally known that snakes that are handled a lot calm down.
As Fred Rossignolli handled his venomous snakes daily, it made sense that they became tame.
That was also Fred's line of thinking as well.
But that wasn't the full story.
A give-away came when I got two Tiger Snakes and shoved them in the same cage.
Newly acquired Tiger Snakes are always aggressive and usually, but not always tame down over time.
However even after quite some time, most will snap at you if even slightly agitated.
These two Tiger Snakes were as tame as could be within days of me getting them.
In another instance, Fred was given an aggressive Tiger Snake one day when he was doing a live snake show in a pit full of snakes.
Without quarantine or any other checks, he simply dropped it into his pit full of other deadly snakes.
The next day, he was free-handling the snake and it was behaving like a long term captive.
Then there was Bob Gleeson in Sydney. He doesn't do snake shows, but he does have lots of deadly snakes and he free-handles the lot.
This includes the generally aggressive Eastern Brown Snakes.
The common thread with him was that he tended to keep them in groups of about six to a cage.
Maybe throwing snakes in togeather made them quieter?
I put the theory to the test.
Here in Australia, Eastern Brown Snakes are regarded as the most highly strung and aggressive of the large elapids.
They have a well deserved reputation for not calming down in captivity and wanting to kill their owners long after they've been in captivity.
The two I had fitted this profile to a tee and so I had to somehow over come this extreme nervousness and aggression in the snakes before I used them for shows.
The nicer and marginally less aggressive of the pair went under the knife and was made venomoid. That was the snake shown in Hoser (2004). As of 2007, he’s still alive and well (as are all the original venomoids).
The venomoid operation removed the risk of a fatal bite to myself, but as far as the snake was concerned it made no difference.
The snake apparently didn't know it was venomous in the first place (or what it meant to be venomous) and to all intents and purposes the snake still wanted to kill me every time I opened it's box.
Because I wasn't sure if I'd keep the other Brown Snake long term, it was initially spared the operating knife and so the venomoid Brown snake was thrown in with a large venomoid Tiger Snake (the large female depicted in Hoser 2004).
That way I wasn't at risk if I opened the box and I had to grab two snakes running in opposite directions.
Sure enough the two snakes weren't impressed with one another, but they calmed down in terms of myself.
This process was repeated and on the day of my first show with the Brown Snake it shared the same box as a collection of other snakes.
By day's end, the snake was calm and free-handleable.
Based on it's earlier (and persistent) behavior, I'd not have believed this personality change possible unless I'd witnessed it myself.
The same general process was repeated on an aggressive Tiger Snake and an (unusually) aggressive Copperhead (Austrelaps superbus).
To cut a long story short, the combination of grouping snakes in close quarters (such as several in a tub when transporting) and frequent handling, will tend to make even the most aggressive reptiles more pleasant and easy to handle.
These two facts explain why snake show people (including myself) are usually able to handle normally aggressive snakes in a manner more akin to the way a person would handle a tame harmless species.
Four years later and all the show snakes are so placid, you could even put their heads in your mouth and they’d not care less. Both times I’ve done this in shows to prove a point (the snakes aren’t interested in biting), people have complained, so that’s one potential element of a show we decided against using.
THE OTHER BIG HAZARD
This is defecation.
Reptiles tend to do this when they are moved and move.
A snake sitting in a cage in a corner won't usually defecate. But if it is allowed to walk around, it literally moves the poo down it's body and the next point is out.
While defecation also occurs due to undue stress, this doesn't seem to be the main reason why show reptiles do it. Rather, the movement's to blame.
That's especially when they end up moving about for several hours!
In theory you can time the feedings to match defecation and hopefully have it occur away from your shows.
Unfortunately that's just a theory.
In my situation, I didn't have lots of spare reptiles and I had shows on a weekly basis, often with shows running several days in a row.
In this situation, it became a game of feeding reptiles when they weren't to be doing shows.
This effectively meant that when there was a scheduled break of a few days or more, then the show reptiles would be fed on the first day, so as to allow time for the food to digest.
This effectively translated as for the food to get out of the stomach.
Noting the variability in digestion times, this meant that some snakes and lizards would defecate during shows and others wouldn't.
Snakes don't tend to defecate too often, but the lizards tend to do it all the time.
Bluetongues and Shinglebacks are notorious for defecating and when you have up to 20 lizards in boxes on a show day, it's an effective certainty that one or more will defecate.
When reptiles defecate when being handled, that's OK. You simply clean it up there and then.
Yes, you have moist cloths, tissues or whatever and a sealable bucket to put the waste in.
More problematic is when you have six reptiles togeather in a container, one defecates and then the rest walk through it and get it all over themselves.
Next thing you know, you have six poo covered reptiles.
This sort of thing happens all the time when you group reptiles.
Over time you get better at guessing which snakes or lizards are likely to defecate and they get held on their own, but the defecating reptiles remains the greatest headache of show reptiles and their owner.
Spectators often find it amusing to watch me wiping Tiger Snakes, Browns and so on with a wet cloth as they come out of a box and are amazed at how the snakes put up with it and never attempt to bite.
The dash to the toilet to wash a load of filthy reptiles between shows is another alternative means to clean a bunch of unruly defecating reptiles. You do it discreetly so as not to alarm others who may be heading in the same direction.
I pushed the envelope one week.
Two large Tiger Snakes were fed one day and carted off to a show the next. One regurgitated it's previous day's meal, the other didn't.
Obviously I'd gone too far in my expectations on the snakes.
But again it was a reason as to why several of each species were required for the shows.
It didn't take long to work out exactly what the limits were for the snakes in terms of ability to hold down food versus handling and after the Tiger Snake incident, I went another year before I had another regurgitation, the next one being a Red-bellied Black Snake fed four chicken necks the day before the show. This was unexpected as these snakes have a "cast iron" stomach.
THE VENOMOID ADVANTAGE
For the venomoid snakes themselves, the operation is a non-event. One day they are deadly, the next they are not. The first operation done took three hours. In terms of cutting and suturing, the last operations measured just six minutes (3 per side) (or 30 minutes average turnaround per snake).
Recovery from surgery is quick and routine and then the snakes can be handled risk free and without a need for pinning, tongs and the like.
These snakes suddenly find a new stress-free existence in terms of being handled by their keeper both at my home facility and when on the road doing snake shows.
Which brings me to a new advantage I faced in terms of my live shows.
Other people in Australia who do shows have until now been resigned to the fact that their venomous snakes get stressed out doing shows and tend to get sick and die after a relatively short period. Continual pinning, necking and use of tongs does take it's toll.
Snake tongs, hooks and the like are solely for the benefit of the snake handler, NOT the snake!
Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
But this stress simply didn't happen in terms of my snakes.
It appeared that the fact they were being handled by me in the same way as pythons (mid-body support, no head restriction, no pinning, no necking, etc), they responded in the same way. That is they got used to being handled and happily put up with it.
Pythons used for shows, never got stressed and died, the problem for others was confined to the deadlies. Hence, the venomoid snakes, were now being spared the potentially fatal stresses that other snake show people exposed them to.
For me, this meant that unlike others who did shows, I wasn't constantly looking for snakes to replace those that were dying prematurely. To the contrary they were mating and breeding as per normal.
Even things as mundane as snakes defecating showed up the venomoid advantage.
A Queensland correspondent reported to the local paper another animal welfare advantage of the “Snakebusters” show over an inferior deadly snake show.
At the Australian Scout Jamboree, the person had seen me pull a Taipan out of a box that had defecated in the box and had some feces on it’s body. I’d simply pulled out a cloth and wiped the snake clean.
Some months later at another venue in another state, the same thing happened. This time however the handler left the feces on the snake’s head. When asked why he didn’t clean the snake he retorted “the snake will bite me and I’ll die”.
The comparative welfare of the snakes was stark!
In the circumstances the response may have been reasonable. After all the snake wasn’t venomoid. But the welfare of the snake was in this case clearly compromised because of this inherent disadvantage of having venom.
THE SEASONED SHOW REPTILES
The best gauge as to these reptiles are those which literally take the shows in their stride.
They are invariably well-adjusted captives and often eat as soon as they are put back in their cages.
Sometimes after several shows, a given reptile may go off it's food for a day or so, perhaps in anticipation of being carted off again and not wanting to be caught out with food in it's stomach.
In these cases food is usually eaten a few days later when offered again.
At first I thought that pre-slough reptiles would be unsuitable to take on shows, but that wasn't to be the case. Other than the fact that they look terrible, they stand up to the rigmarole fine.
Occasionally scales are pulled off making the final shed piecemeal, or the dryness and movement may make shedding problematic for some.
When that happens a bath in luke warm water fixes the problem and the skin either flakes off or is manually shed, the net result being the snake sheds perfectly OK and remains in perfect health.
Once I grabbed a large preslough Tiger Snake as it made off from a table only to pull the rear half of it's skin off as the snake sped off.
I grabbed the snake and put him in a box, the audience thinking my pulling the skin off was part of the show. As a herper, I thought it looked terrible and irresponsible, but the snake didn't suffer as a result. It shed the rest of his skin that evening and still looked immaculate.
Alternatively, pre-slough reptiles are soaked in luke-warm water for an hour or so after unloading at home and this rehyrdation generally more than outweighs the dehydrating effects of handling during shows, the result being normal shedding.
Then there's the advantage of Melbourne's cold climate.
Because most of the time the weather is cool here, show reptiles tend to sit still.
Typically they come out of cool boxes and sit in a bright place and stay still hoping to bask and get warm.
The handled lizards like the Bluetongues and the pythons also like to be handled as the warm human hands are exactly what the reptiles want and hence they stay still to literally bask on the people.
It's not uncommon for a large python to curl up on a person's lap and stay there for hours!
One question I had was how long would it take for a newly acquired reptile to become "show ready". Some literally took to doing shows straight away. That is they could be handled non-stop for a day, come home, eat straight away and be ready again within a few days.
Most lizards fitted this profile either straight away, or within weeks.
The snakes tended to be a bit slower, but even so, all could be made "show ready" within 12 weeks, in that they were clean, healthy, happy to be handled and could be fed without problem straight after showing, or within a day or so.
In terms of the small or newborn pythons, that sometimes got mishandled by inexperienced people, dropped and so on, I was amazed in that without exception all ate voraciously and were perfect trouble free captives in spite of this treatment.
I should perhaps note that the mistreatment of these snakes wasn't a daily thing, but rather an occasional occurrence and that by and large their handling was stress free and uneventful.
Hoser, R. T. 2004. Surgical Removal of Venom Glands in Australian Elapid Snakes: The creation of venomoids. Herptile:Journal of the International Herpetological Society 29(1) :36-52.
Hoser, R. T.
2005. Surgically enhanced venomous
snakes. Venom glands out, silicone implants in! The creation of perfect
exhibition snakes in the post HIH era.
Crocodilian 5(1-3):including some cover photos.
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