Welcome to Hot Elementary School
Kindergarten: This is your beginning in hot keeping - Day One of training for keeping of venomous reptiles when you get acquainted with the tools of the trade. The snake hooks come in all shapes and sizes from little collapsible that are no more than 6 inches to massive python hooks up to 8 feet long. Snake probes that look like your mothers knitting needless. Snake tubes, plastic tubes for placing snakes in for safe handling that look more suitable for holding paper towels or toilet paper then putting snakes in. Tongs for grabbing snakes that make you think you're picking up trash in a park rather then picking up snakes. If you thought on day one you would be handling the animals, think again. You have to be good at the tools of the trade and comfortable with them on nonvenomous snakes before getting close to the real animals.
First Grade: Your trainer says, "Are you ready for some fun today?" Your eyes are bright and bulging starring at the hot room, and dreams of working with venomous snakes are bouncing through your head. Your teacher tells you that the ball python cages are dirty and need cleaning as do all the other nonvenomous animals. Your heart sinks and your nose curls as you realize that this is not going to be a quick deal to work with venomous but a long slow process where you will be putting in your dues.
Your teacher walks out with you and says that every cage needs to be cleaned and every animal needs to be treated as though it were HOT. You must use the proper tools to safely remove them out of the cage and place them in a safety container. Then you must clean the cages and replace the animal using the same safety procedures. At this point you're thinking, "I am this guy's slave just for cleaning cages and am never going to get to handle the venomous I want to."
Second Grade: After several weeks of working under the supervision of your trainer cleaning ball python cages, you hear him / her say OK today we work with the hots. Your heart stops, your eyes bulge and you think, "Finally I get to work with them." He walks toward the hot room, you hot on his heels and he stops you at the door and says you stand here. He then walks in and opens a cobra's cage. You are thinking all right my turn's coming, and he says here go clean this cage and repaper it.
Back to cage cleaner you go. All day long you repeat this procedure watching him over and over again removing the animals himself you wish to work with and handing you the cage to clean. This goes on for several weeks with you watching him handling. You are thinking, "Why did I even want to learn from this guy," or "Why do I even want to be here if I can't handle the snakes myself. I am just a cage cleaner for this person but hey, at least I get to see the snakes."
Third Grade: Finally after several months of cage cleaning you walk in and he says, "Sit down, we need to talk." You are wondering what is going on what have I done wrong my teacher looks so serious and is wanting to have a sit down, there goes my training, I have pissed him off or something. He says, "OK Joe/Jane. What have you learned in the last few months?" You pause and think, You say well I have learned how to use tongs and hooks so many times cleaning cages that they are like an appendage of my own body. I have learned how to get the snakes out of their cages without getting bit. I can smell a dirty tank at 50 paces or a regurge at 100 yards.
Your trainer says, "OK have you been bit since you started using the tools here or at home?" You think No, I no longer just reach in to a cage without thinking.
Your trainer asks, "Are your own cages kept cleaner now?" You think yes they are I can now smell them when they are dirty and IM more alert to cleaning them on site also.
Your trainer asks, "Do you just open cages now without looking first?" You stop and think no, I now look for the animal in all cages before opening. Congratulations Mr. Cage Cleaner - without your knowledge your trainer broke the bad habits that could have gotten you killed. You now look before opening a cage. You now use the proper tools for handling. You now pay more attention to what you are about to do instead of just reaching in and grabbing the animal.
Your keeper says, "OK today we need to sex some animals. Today you get some hands on training." Your thinking to yourself hot dog I get to get some animals out and probe them and handle them. As you and your trainer walk towards the door he stops you again and says wait here. He walks in the room and opens up an Eastern diamondback's cage and hooks the animal out. You're thinking that it's very dangerous for two people to be in the room he is going to bring it out here for me to work with. As you watch in disbelief as he manipulates it in to a tube and then picks it up and says, "OK go ahead and probe it".
Fourth Grade: Well, now you are at least getting to touch the venomous reptiles even though you have probably probed many snakes of your own. You watch your trainer get out many snakes for probing. You see him carefully open the boxes/cages they are in, being sure to keep his body parts away from the strike range of the animals. You watch him take his time with the animals to manipulate them into the tubes. After doing this for some time he says to you OK come in the room. You are thinking, "OK now I'm going to what sweep the floor mop it maybe or get clean some of the empty cages. After all I am The Great Cage Cleaner." You're thinking, "Man, I have been doing this for 4 months now and the closest I get is to their poop or the poop shoot." When out of the blue your trainer says OK open that box up over there it's all yours.
Your eyes light up, your heart jumps a beat, you're thinking, "Finally I GET TO GET ONE OUT." You go over to the box and open it up as your trainer says how did the bite on your finger feel because you stuck your fingers under the lid when opening. You look at him and say "I did not get bit." He says look in the box and you see its empty except for a plastic snake and your thinking "What the hell." You look at your trainer and realize he fooled you! Or did he? He said how did the bite feel and you realize that you did put your fingers under the lid and had it been real you would have been bitten. You let your emotion and anxiousness get you in trouble. You realize that had it been real you would now be on your way to the hospital. You just received a very valuable lesson in never getting ahead of yourself because your so eager to see or work with an animal. The animal is not going anyplace so there is never a reason for you not to take things slow and meticulous with deliberate actions and purpose.
Fifth Grade: Your come in after that major eye opening experience and are wondering what is going to be next. I really blew it with that cage opening I could have been bit. I didn't look first to see where the animal was. I didn't use proper technique in opening the cage. I was too excited about getting to work with the animal and broke every rule I had learned. You trainer looks at you and says what are you thinking about as he sees your thinking hard. You tell him and he says, "You are now starting to show the maturity and thought needed to see your own mistakes so you do not make them again." He tells you not to dwell on your mistakes but to learn from them now when they don't kill you.
He says OK, lets go back in the room. He points to a box and says it needs to be cleaned. You go over and look inside and see what appears to be a live snake in it, but the box is too cloudy to tell which species so you place it on a counter and pop the lid so it's still on but never opened. You then reach for a small hook and open it. You had on your mind the disaster from before and do not want to risk it again especially knowing there is a live snake in this box! As you use the hook to open the box lid you see what appears to be Lataste's Viper "Vipera latastei". You are in heaven - finally I get to work with a hot even if it's just the repetition of taking the animal out and placing it in a safety holding container to clean the cage. You reach in with the hook carefully remove the viper and place it in the hold container. You go about cleaning the cage and changing the water. Then you replace the snake in the container and put the lid back on. As you do it you feel a sharp pain and realize you had your fingers under the lip of the lid and have been bit.
You turn in a state of shock and look at your trainer and tell him you just got bit. He looks at you in a funny glare and says, "You were so excited to have been working with the animal you forgot that placing a lid on is just as dangerous as taking one off. Fortunately what you thought to be the Lataste's Viper was just a very nice Solomon's Island Ground Boa, Candoia ssp. One though that looks very similar to the deadly Lataste's Viper Vipera latastei."
Another important lesson learned today in patience and attentiveness. One that caused some pain and blood this time but at least it wasn't fatal.
Sixth Grade: You have learned now how to clean cages. You have learned from your mistakes that not being patient and not thinking ahead can be painful if not downright deadly. You need to look back over these last six months or so and think to yourself, is it worth it to proceed? Do I really want to work with animals that can with one mistake take my life or disfigure me? At this point in your training you have learned much, you realize there is more to keeping venomous reptiles then just sticking them in a cage and throwing in food once in a while. After reflection of what you have seen and learned you still want to proceed with your training. You know there is no substitute for safety and awareness of your surroundings and that you must always maintain a calm and collected train of thought about what your doing, never letting emotions dictate how you handle or work with the animals. Just like in School you have to learn, sometimes learning is not fun and sometimes it is.
Looking back over your grade school introduction to venomous reptiles, you have learned the very basics of which you probably already had some knowledge. How to use a hook, how to use tongs, how to use tubes, how to clean cages. But now your trainer has forced you to use the tools more than you ever would have for your own collection of nonvenomous reptiles. He/She has taught you safety through repetition. Having a hook in your hand is now just an extension of your own hand. You are so comfortable with a hook or tong that is second nature. Your nose has developed into a sharply tuned crap smeller. Your eyes have become safety tools for noticing things out of place or out of the ordinary. Your brain now thinks about all places in a cage an animal can use to hide from sight before you open it. Safety is always on your mind. You have learned all these things but more importantly you have developed a more mature understanding of the animals and yourself. Congratulations - the elementary levels have been learned.
The Middle School
Seventh Grade: Today you walk in and your trainer says it's time for you to get to know the hot room. He says, "Go on in and I will be there in a moment". You have learned from the past that training is never as simple as that. You open the door and look in and see on the floor a box that looks like a lid was popped open. What do you do? The box could have had a snake in it and now it's out! You err on the side of caution and tell your trainer about what you just observed. He says, "Good, I'm glad you didn't go in the room although I did place it there to see your reaction." So now the two of you go in and he says, "Today we go over the basics of a hot room."
First thing is to make certain all cages are of a locking nature or secured to prevent escapes. The room itself should be completely escape proof with a locking door and any vents should be screened to prevent escape. You should know where all tools you need are located at all times and the floor kept clear of debris as well as the counter tops. All the cages should be properly marked and labeled as to what species are in them. An emergency protocol book should be handy and all emergency numbers posted. Emergency lighting set up in case of a power outage. Your trainer asks you to familiarize yourself with everything in the room. He then hands you the protocol book for you to see what's in it. A list of all species that is kept is list in this book along with the species is where they are from what their habitat is, their prey, and importantly the type of antivenin needed in case of a bite along with where to obtain it. All the phone numbers of other keepers in your area are listed as well as Miami Dade Fire Rescue and Poison Control. There are also papers in their on treatment for bites for each of the species kept. You notice a "DNR"order Do Not Resuscitate order and a living will. Also is the keepers full medical records. All of these things are important to have in this book in the event of a bite. They will help the hospital in better treating a bite when it occurs.
My own DNR/LIVING WILL specifically states that I do not wish to be saved if I cannot live a high quality of life after a bite. I spelled out very specifically what I felt was quality of life. I do not wish to be a vegetable or burden on my spouse. I also states in there that only my wife and my best friend who is also a qualified paramedic and one of the finest snake keepers are to make any and all decisions on my medical care and wishes in the event I am not capable of making them. I know many hospitals are not qualified due to lack of understanding of snake bites to make these important determinations. And felt that it is best to leave those decisions in the qualified hands of people who understand venomous reptiles and what occurs post bite.
Now that you have done all this your trainer says, "We have a few cages need attention today." He pulls out some boxes and says, "OK your turn." You look around and see the animal at the far end of the cage and pop the lid and use a hook to lift it. Inside you see a small copperhead. You use your hook to remove the snake and place it in a secure container and clean its cage and water it and place a small hopper in. You then replace the snake and using the hook to slide the lid back on and push it down to secure it. You move on to the next cage and the next cage the same way checking each one first. Finally you're working with venomous species. Though they are small and relatively harmless copperheads at least you now getting hands on training. You are deep in concentration of what you're doing when you hear a crash from behind after you just put the last box away. What do you do?
As you turn you realize that the rack holding the black mambas just fell! 12 baby black mambas just hit the ground. Scary prospect isn't it? At this point instinct should hopefully take over. You grab a hook alongside your trainer and look to be certain all the containers are still intact and no shoestrings of death got out. Yes, it was nerve wracking but all is OK and no escapes happened. This is a very valuable lesson in calm and taking in what happened what needs to be done and how important it is that when working in a hot room to know your surroundings and tool placement and where other persons are. Inside that room your life and that of any person in it is in your hands.
Eighth Grade: A joyful time! Many new specimens have just arrived and they need to be unpacked. Unlike when you're at home and get in new animals these are venomous and deadly. So no reaching in with your hands. Your trainer explains to you that when you open each crate you must be very careful as snakes might have escaped their bags. You open each box up and carefully with a hook move bags around to insure no escapes. Your trainer then uses a pair of tongs to carefully remove each bag and place it on a counter top. He tells you to prepare cages and fill a trash can with some water. You ask him why the trash can with water. He explains these animals need to soak and get rehydrated. After preparing the trash can and cages he pulls the bag flat with a pair of hemostats and places a hook securely between the knot and the snake and unties the bag. Then with the bag untied he uses two hemostats to pick up the bag and place it in the trash can to allow the animal to go directly in. Wow, a Cobra. After letting the animal soak it's time to put it in the cage and put him away. Remember to label the cage so you know it's a cobra or whatever species.
On to the next bag - it's obviously a heavy bodied animal that is huffing and puffing. You watch your trainer perform the same procedure with the hemostats and hook, then see the bag jump and two very large fangs blow through the bag. You realize that had a part of anyone's body been on it they would now be envenomated by a viper. After the shock of what has happened your trainer dumps it in the trash can to soak and you see this outstanding Gaboon Viper. It should settle in how deadly this animal is and what would have happened had it bitten you through the bag. Though bags offer some protection a snake can and will bite through one and unfortunately people have been bit during this very dangerous time of unpacking animals.
Ninth Grade: After the day before and the mental and visual lessons you just learned, with the knowledge someday you will be the one having to do these exact same procedures as yourself, you ask yourself again, "Is it worth it to keep venomous?"
Today the animals are going to be medicated and inspected for external parasites and quarantined from the general population. This is a very dangerous day as you know that oral medications mean dealing with the business end of the animals. You and your trainer are in the room and he/she is getting out the animals for proper medications to be administered. You watch as he pins a cobra and inserts a tube in its mouth as it chomps down on the tube and venom starts flowing his fingers only inches from those fangs and a sure bite with one slip. He/She moves on to the Gaboon viper pinning the head and as he lifts the snake it bites down, sending its own fangs through its bottom jaw. The fangs miss his finger by millimeters. This is one of the nasty things a viper can do and improper placement of a finger will get you bit as sure as the sun rises in the east.
One hundred percent concentration is needed for dealing with animals on this level and an understanding of proper handling. It should be said that unless it is absolutely needed NEVER handle a venomous reptiles with your hands.
Quarantine time! Many people have asked me about quarantines, So I thought I would share what works for me. Hope it helps. This is the method I have found to work best for the safety of myself and well being of my animals. Remember a new animal that is not QUARANTINED can bring in unwanted pests and diseases that can be fatal to your entire collection. Remember NEVER under any circumstances place a new arrival in the general population of your other animals. This is very tempting for most people to due but the contagiousness of certain viruses that reptiles can spread to one another it can prove fatal to not only the carrier species but also other species in your collection.Also if an animal has external parasites such as mites or ticks these parasites do have legs and will travel to other members of your collection thus infesting the entire collection.
First thing I want to say is remember to wash your hands before and after you handle the new arrival for both your protection and the protection of the animal. I always clean my hands with an antibacterial soap first then rinse with water then re-rinse with Alchol. I also use surgical gloves for handling the new arrival.
Step 1 Arrival. Inspect the container the animal has arrived in for mites, ticks and any other external parasites. If any external parasites are present in the container it is safe to assume they are definitely on the animal. At this point I would take the animal out and put it directly in to a plastic container and throw out all the packaging material in an outside trash can. Also spray the trash can with some type of bug spray that is formulated to be nontoxic to snakes. After the container has been disposed of I would take the snake and run warm water over it, rubbing the animal as to remove as many parasites as possible. After thoroughly rinsing the animal place it in clean bag and begin setting up its container.
For an animal that has been confirmed to have parasites I suggest using a product such as "Provent A Mite". This can be purchased online or at a pet shop that specializes in reptiles. I have found it best to spray the entire container and lid and allow to set for 10 minutes. Then place clean newspaper in the bottom and lightly spray again. Allow 10 more minutes to pass then place the waterbowl and reptile in.
Step 2 Inspection. Inspect the animal for any crust around the cloaca and mucus around the mouth. If any crust or mucus is found it can be a sign of health problems. At this point it is best to get the animal directly to a vet for treatment. BE SURE TO KEEP ALL MEDICAL RECORDS. I will explain why later.
Step 3 Vet visit. Place the snake in a new clean bag and take to a veterinarian. Do this regardless if the animal looks healthy upon arrival. There can be problems that only a vet can detect through diagnostic tests or his knowledge of reptiles.
Step 4 Housing. After the vet has given the snake a clean bill of health take the animal and put it in a sterile plastic box with paper for substrate. Again I still recommend using the "Provent o Mite" just in case the animal had parasitic eggs that were missed.
Step 5 Feeding. On the 7th day feed the animal. I advise waiting the 7 days as to allow the animal to acclimate and adjust to its new environment and settle from any stresses the animal may have had. Feedings will of course vary on animal and species so a best rule is to use your knowledge of the species you are working with.
Step 6 Vet Checkup. On the 30th day take the snake to the Vet for another health check. Again keep all records of these transactions. Remember you must clean the tank and waterbowl every day of the quarantine period. I always use the 90 day quarantine method for safety and health of my collection. I suggest using a dishwasher for the cleaning of the quarantine tank, water bowl and food dish. I understand this seams to be an extreme amount of work and detail but if you have a large collection the cost of not being careful in monetary value can be in the thousands of dollars. Now think of the psychological impact on you and your family at the loss of a pet. In my opinion the cost and time taken to protect both you and your animal is well worth it in the long run. Keeping in mind these animals can lead a long and productive life if taken care of properly from day one.
Now as to why keep all vet records. It is sad to say but there are dishonest persons in the business of selling reptiles. If you do acquire an animal that has ANY problems immediately e-mail the person you purchased the animal from. Keep all records of E-mails from the original agreement to purchase to any problems you have had. If the person is reputable they should be willing to help you with the cost of your vet bill or credit you to purchases in the future. Keep in mind that just because they have a Terms of Service "TOS" does not mean you do not have recourse. Many states now have laws regarding selling animals not in good health. These are known as Lemon Laws and are enforceable. However in all fairness reptiles if not cared for can have health issues surface very rapidly at no fault of the seller. If you have a vet check immediately it will prevent most problems you may have if there are any signs of ill health. Again the same applies to pet shops if that is where you purchased from, despite some of them trying to tell you they have a NO refund or Health guarantee there are some legal precedents that you can use in certain states if they sold you a lemon. Also pet store employees are for the most part there to play with the animals and in many cases have little or no practical knowledge. Do your research first and do not let them tell you falsehoods or myths.
Reptiles if not cared for properly can and will go down hill fast. It is your obligation to them to know everything possible before even purchasing one. You must be able to also properly care for the animal once you have received it.
Tenth Grade: Wow it's been 8 months of learning and seeing things that should make you stop and think a few hundred times if it's worth it to keep venomous reptiles. At this point you should be able to clean cages and work the tools like they have always been part of your body. You should have an instinct about you that warns of danger where the average person would not see it. You have developed a sense of awareness of your surroundings and a calm about you and deliberate action when working with the animals. You should be working now with the species you wish to own and reading about them constantly. Contacting other keepers and asking questions about the animal/animals. Your trainer should be instructing you on the fine points of the husbandry of the species.
Eleventh Grade: Time to start the homework. Setting up your hotroom, getting your cages ready. With the cage don't skimp out and get cheap you have spent almost a year of your life now studying and learning about the animal. With so much time already dedicated to this get them a nice cage. Take the time to set it up nice with hidden hide boxes water dishes lighting and LOCKS, be sure to get your emergency protocol set up and start contacting local hospitals and find a doctor who will be willing to treat you if you're bitten with knowledge. Take the time to set an appointment with him and give him a copy of your protocol book and discuss it fully and always keep him updated on what species you keep. Inform the local fire department as well in case they are ever needed. It is also a good idea to meet your local police officers and let them know as well. Some may ask why your telling them but if a 911 call goes out many times police respond or if you're out of town and your house is broken into they will be responding. If the criminals have let out a venomous reptile you don't want the officer to get bit.Being responsible is a major part of hot keeping and that extends to person who may have to enter your house in an emergency.
The Senior Graduation
Now is the time to look back one last time and reflect on everything you have seen and the inherent dangers of working with venomous snakes. Ask yourself one last time, is it worth it? After 1 year and accumulating 1000 hours of training (as per Florida's permitting system) it is time to get you permit. You need to have documented proof of one full year at least with dates and times of area/areas you received your training. You need to have documented proof of 1000 hours minimum to accompany that year signed off by your trainer. You must have two letters of recommendation as well and be able to provide proof and knowledge in the care, feeding, handling and husbandry. All this has to be in triplicate and sent to Tallahassee for review. After they review it they forward on to their field officers for an inspection of your premises. If all goes well you will now be mailed your venomous reptile license.
This is by no way meant to be a training guide for anyone. It is merely some of what a person might go through if they wish to obtain a venomous reptile. Proper training is crucial for safety. I used the school mentality as it is a simple way to keep tabs of a process.
- Scott Bice
|Read the article, "So
you want to get trained for hot keeping Part II" by Scott
Read the article, "Venomous Snake Handling Heresies"
Read the article, "Caring for Hot Herps at Home"