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OR Press: Washington's Reptileman

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Posted by: W von Papinešu at Mon Mar 6 19:50:13 2006  [ Report Abuse ] [ Email Message ] [ Show All Posts by W von Papinešu ]  
   

THE OREGONIAN (Portland, Oregon) 05 March 06 See creatures - Washington's renowned Reptileman loves to share his amazing collection of creepy crawlies (Terry Richard)
In the back corner of the Reptile Zoo, past the puff adder, the black mamba, the Nile crocodile and the monitor lizard, lives a colony of Madagascar hissing cockroaches.
That's where some visitors draw the line.
They don't mind seeing the reptiles, but they can't stand the sight of roaches the size of mice. What they don't know is that roaches are quite harmless, can easily be grown in captivity and don't even smell bad.
Many of Earth's creepy crawlies, -- from snakes to 'gators, from tarantulas to caimans -- are beautiful in their own way, and they make valuable contributions to the natural world. That's the message Scott Petersen wants to share with visitors to his serpentarium just outside Monroe, a Snohomish County town 30 miles northeast of Seattle.
Petersen, who calls himself Reptileman, knows that the world is populated by two kinds of people: those who don't mind looking at snakes and those who have a morbid fear of them.
By exposing people at a young age to reptiles, he hopes to help them avoid a lifelong fear. He presents about 1,000 live shows a year, including appearances at OMSI in Portland. But most of his appearances are at elementary schools -- and the occasional birthday party -- in the Puget Sound area.
At a recent show at Highland Elementary in Renton, he enthralled his young audience with an alligator snapping turtle, a blue-tongued skink, a king snake, a gaboon viper and more. But the highlight of the assembly came when eight second-graders, showing no fear, eagerly volunteered to line up and hold a Burmese python stretched straight from its head to the tip of its tail.
Petersen's Reptile Zoo is crammed with enough reptiles, amphibians and insects to help anyone either get over their fears -- or pass out from fright.
Most of the 150 captive-bred specimens are kept in plastic cages, some with open tops to allow petting (tortoises, not alligators). Placards give a brief description of the animals, which include the stars of Petersen's list of the world's 10 deadliest snake species.
His snakes, however, are no longer deadly. A zoologist by training, Petersen anesthetizes his venomous snakes and surgically removes the glands that make the poison. The glands do not regenerate. Getting bit by a snake without poison would still hurt, he says, but it would be less dangerous than being bitten by a domestic cat or even another human.
Nevertheless, Petersen limits snake touching by zoo visitors to docile species, such as a rosey boa.
It would be a brave visitor, indeed, who wanted to touch Petersen's cobra collection -- which includes an Egyptian, banded Egyptian, black Pakistan, monocled, black forest, black and white spitting and, of course, a 12-foot long king.
After the Highland Elementary students had funneled back to their classrooms, one of the adult observers asked if Petersen had any specimens with him that he had not shown during the assembly.
That's when he opened the king cobra's cage.
The spectacular snake crawled around on the gymnasium floor, slithering awfully close to the legs of the observers. But with the skill of an Indian snake charmer, Petersen kept the cobra's attention focused squarely on himself.
Washington's renowned Reptileman


   

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