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CA Press: Children learn about snakes and such at Lodi festival

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Posted by: W von Papinešu at Mon Sep 22 13:39:51 2003  [ Report Abuse ] [ Email Message ] [ Show All Posts by W von Papinešu ]  
   

LODI NEWS-SENTINEL (California) 20 September 03 Children learn about snakes and such at Lodi festival (Ross Farrow)
Photo: A group of children gather round for a chance to get a close-up look and touch an albino Burmese Python known as Sunshine. The Python is on display in Brad's World Reptiles exhibit at the Grape Festival. (J. Paul Bruton/News-Sentinel)
Kate Hemlock loves snakes, and she wants to share what she sees as some misconceptions about them.
So much that she invites the public to hold them at the Lodi Grape Festival through Sunday at the Brad's World Reptiles exhibit on the far west end of the festival grounds.
"Snakes are one of the most misunderstood groups of animals in the world, and that's why we work with them," said Hemlock, a wildlife interpreter for Brad's.
One of the biggest misconceptions about snakes is that they are poisonous, Hemlock said.
"Pythons are not poisonous; they are constrictors," she said. "We have a 10-foot albino Burmese python that is friendly."
You can find out for yourself by holding the python at the Grape Festival this year. Handlers will take the python out about the last two hours each night the exhibit is open, from about 8 to 10 p.m.
During the festival's opening night Thursday, children seemed to be particularly intrigued by the reptiles.
"I want to buy one of those," Wyatt Griffith, 5, of Valley Springs, said after petting two Australia bearded dragons for several minutes.
So what did young Wyatt enjoy the most about the dragons?
"They were very still," he said.
Girls seemed to enjoy the snakes as much as the boys.
"Oh, he's smooth," Monica Gier, 6, said after petting a Taiwanese beauty snake. "Can I hold him?"
Monica, a first-grader at Beckman Elementary School in Lodi, has two pet iguanas at home, which explains why she's comfortable around reptiles, said her mother, Susi Gier.
"I'm not even scared of rattlesnakes," Monica said, her face beaming with pride.
While children seemed to take to the reptiles, a macho-looking 21-year-old who identified himself only as Dereck shuddered while looking at the Taiwanese beauty snake.
"I can take anything except snakes and spiders," said Dereck, who lives in South Lake Tahoe. "I can pass out. I'll start crying. Even seeing it move and wiggle -- ooh."
Lodi resident Erin Crumpley, a substitute teacher, enjoyed the Taiwanese beauty snake so much that she wrapped the snake around her.
"Women love snakes -- they do," Crumpley said. "I've been around snakes a lot."
And snakes take more of a liking to women than men, according to Crumpley.
"Women are more calm and (snakes) can sense if you're afraid or nervous," Crumpley said.
Next to the Taiwanese beauty snake was an American alligator, or "Big Al," as his handlers called him.
Big Al had a rather ominous sign next to him: "Do not put hands in gator pool. He has already been fed."
Parker likes to give the animals human characteristics to put the public, especially children, at ease. She had an unusual way of describing why people shouldn't put their hands near Big Al.
"He's a real good boy," Parker said. "It's kind of his personal space."
There is only one venomous snake -- a rattlesnake -- in the entire western United States. And, yes, the venomous rattlesnake will be at the Grape Festival this weekend.
"I hear people who don't like snakes say, 'Hey look at this one, hey look at that one,'" said Hemlock, who also enjoys the humor exhibited by people when they interact with the snakes and other creatures.
Hemlock and Parker enjoy educating the public about snakes and other reptiles at their traveling exhibit. There are 2,700 species of snakes worldwide, 20 of which are at the Grape Festival this weekend.
"I talk about the importance of snakes in the ecosystem as predators and as prey," Hemlock said.
Hemlock grew up in Portland, Ore., and saw snakes around her home. Her mother didn't like snakes, but she didn't let on to her children.
"I was not taught to fear them," she said.
Hemlock's name rings with irony, considering that hemlock is a poisonous plant. Just ask Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher, who was executed by being forced to drink hemlock.
Armed with a horticulture degree, Hemlock got a job in live animal education with the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. That led her to exhibiting reptiles for Brad Tylman, owner of Brad's World Reptiles, at fairs and school assemblies. Hemlock's first fair was in 1996.
"This has been at least my sixth Lodi Grape Festival," Hemlock said while setting up her exhibit Thursday morning. "It is my favorite because of the people running it and the people of Lodi and the quality of the festival. It's a cool happening."
Parker became involved with the reptile exhibit after interning for Tylman two years ago. She managed more than 1,000 reptiles in 2001 and spent a month at fairs last year.
"I didn't have a particular interest (in reptiles)," Parker said. "I got used to them. They're awesome creatures."
Based in Corvallis, Ore., Brad's World Reptiles has been at 18 fairs and festivals this year, mostly county fairs.
Last week, Hemlock and Parker were in Othello, Wash., for the Adams County Fair and on Oct. 1, they will be at the Big Fresno Fair. They also had exhibits at the California and Oregon state fairs this year.
Brad's World Reptiles are looking for community volunteers to help hold animals and talk about them the remaining two days of the Grape Festival. For more information, see Hemlock or Parker during the exhibit between 1 and 10 p.m.
For more information about the exhibit, see www.bradsworldreptiles.com.
Children learn about snakes and such at Lodi festival


   

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