Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 31/8/2009 (3215 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
When my husband was younger, he owned a Burmese python called Puppy.
Puppy was purchased by my husband's buddy in Edmonton. Planning on giving his girlfriend pearls as a birthday present, my spouse's friend thought it would be funny to insert the snake in the box instead. Seconds after she opened the box, he pulled the real present out of his pocket.
Had my husband attempted to surprise me in this manner, I would have been out the door faster than he could have said, "What do you mean, 'Not if you're the last man on Earth'?"
At the time, I knew little about snakes. They're one of those pets that you immediately love or hate. I've always seen the beauty and appeal of a Burmese python. Inexperience, however, made me afraid of placing a snake in a home with other animals it could likely consume.
Puppy grew from a tiny reptile to 2.1 metres long in two years. My husband loved him. He had bragged to me about meeting Puppy's mother. She was six metres long and weighed over 90 kilograms. She required two or three people to lift her. Knowing that Puppy had the genes to make him larger than the length of my front room forced us to seek a new home for him.
Unlike what is now recommended, Puppy ate live feed. And I had a kitten.
After placing an advertisement in the local paper, we got all sorts of calls. As we reviewed prospective buyers, most seemed more likely to treat Puppy like a party favour than a real pet. It was frustrating. While arrangements were being made for Puppy to go to our local zoo, rather than the hormone-laden teenage boys who'd offered to buy her, he died. A visitor to our condo had mistakenly turned off the main switch to Puppy's heated aquarium.
Puppy's demise was as unfortunate as a current trend in Florida, where many inexperienced snake owners are releasing Burmese pythons into the wild. The snakes grow beyond their level of care and expertise and owners abandon them. Common to Southeast Asia, Burmese pythons are now treated as an invasive species to the United States, as they're affecting flora, fauna and humans. The recent death of a toddler has heightened the fear among Floridians. A bounty has been put on the head of every Burmese python outside of captivity.
Pythons, like any other creatures, should be treated with respect. Those incapable of caring for a full-grown snake should never get a hatchling. Pets and, in some unfortunate cases, humans pay for owner error.
Rhiannon Vermeulen, chair of the Manitoba Herpetocultural Society, is passionate about responsible snake ownership. Just because you don't have to walk a snake daily doesn't mean it's not a commitment.
"Snake owners often make a variety of mistakes based the fact that they have not done enough research... some species of snakes can live up to 49 years," says Vermeulen.
Knowing how to care for your snake is vital, both for the reptile and those living with it. My husband learned this early on. Getting ready for a feeding session, he handled Puppy's food before he handled the snake. Sensing a meal, Puppy struck him on the thumb. Even though he wasn't very large at the time, he stripped the skin from my husband's thumb like a peel from a banana.
He knew it wasn't Puppy's fault. But he did have to explain a few things to the University of Alberta nurse wondering why she was treating a snake bite in the middle of February.
Those with animals and young children should steer away from venomous snakes, despite some of them being allowed in Manitoba.
"They should only be kept by an experienced and well-informed owner," says Vermeulen.
Many misconceptions remain about snakes. Some feel that they're slimy and aggressive, but according to Vermeulen, they're not slimy and they're only aggressive when taunted. (I know how they feel. I'm aggressive when I'm taunted, too.)
Owning a snake can sometimes pose problems: Veterinary care isn't easily accessible, and moving to different cities might cause issues, as species allowed in one city may be banned in others.
Nevertheless, Vermeulen hopes all fears can be allayed. It's why she feels the Manitoba Herpetocultural Society is so important. It helps prospective owners find good breeders and seek snakes best suited to their lifestyles and budgets. This tight community will even aid other owners when re-homing a snake becomes necessary.
Those interested in discovering further information about the society, and the reptiles the members love, can visit www.manitobaherp.com. They'd be happy to sssspeak with you.