K through 12 Hot keeping
Recently I have seen a trend and attitude from many different places such as the Net, magazines, talk at pet shops. With the growing availability of venomous reptiles it appears more and more people are looking at it and the entire hobby as a GRADUATION experience.
Elementary School, We start out with corn snakes and ball pythons. Simple good starter animals so we keep them a few months then decide they are ready to go to Middle school.
Middle School, we get the small to medium size Boas and Pythons. Again we keep them for a while and do ok with a little higher degree of difficultly on to high school.
High school, we get retics maybe a chondro python or emerald tree boa. OK higher degree of difficulty and learning and we keep them for a time and think ok now its time to graduate I can handle a hot. All sounds good right!! NOT EVEN CLOSE
Think about it you now have a collection of from 6 to whatever and must meet their needs and requirements first off! Or did you just pawn them off or sell them off so you can get your next species to work in your education and graduation.
OK now we go into the Venomous Keepers. Just the inherent danger that is obvious with those wonderful fangs should make you stop and think long and hard about it. The keepers I have spoke to in most cases gave it a great deal of thought before deciding they wanted to keep. You need to have a great deal of patience. Imagine a large rattler, gaboon, cobra that is high spirited not responding to what YOU want, not riding a hook or coming out of its cage for cleaning or a million other things. What are you going to do, reach in and grab it like you would a cornsnake or ball python because you're getting frustrated????
You need to have a great deal of understanding. You need to recognize when an animal is not capable or willing to be worked with. That only comes from time and knowledge of a species. At that time, walk away. NOTHING is worth your life. With that understanding also comes the needs for it's health and longevity and quality of life in your care. Such as its natural habitat, temps, humidity, levels, prey. All of which have to be right. Some species are prey specific or require special dietary needs.
You need to have constant awareness. If you walk in a a non-venomous room and an escape has occurred you find it and catch it, simple. Now you walk in a HOT room and find an escape has occurred. Not only do you need to stop in your tracks, you need to get safety equipment out and then slowly and methodically find and recapture the escaped animal. This can be very tricky especially if you have a spitting cobra or a very large species of viper. Imagine for a minute a large 6 foot spitting cobra in a tight corner of a room behind something fired up and ready to spit. Or try to get a 6 foot rattler or a 9 foot bushmaster coiled and ready to strike with a range of 4 to 5 feet or more if it uses its body to push off increasing its strike range.
OK you walk in the room and everything is safe and secure but you need to open a cage for cleaning or shoe box with a neonate in it. No big deal for a non-venomous, open the cage / box clean it and you're out no worries. But with a hot if it's aggressive in a cage it might come out after you and you better not panic. You need to open the shoe box - better watch your fingers. I know of a few keepers who were bitten opening shoe boxes.
You need to have good knowledge of PROPER handling. Handling DOES NOT MEAN BY HAND. The proper tools needed to properly manipulate these animals for your and their safety is a must and this can only be done after you have mastered everything above and received training from a qualified handler. How do you get patience? This is something you either have or don't. You know if you are or are not. If you don't have any, then don't get hots - it is very much required. My Eastern diamondback is normally very difficult to work with and once he is out does not want to go back in the cage. It may take me 15 minutes or more to finally get him back in. Being patient and calm with him is an absolute must. So ask yourself what would you do in that situation.
How do you get an understanding of these animals? Reading, talking to other keepers, e-mailing zoos and other keepers train with keepers that have the animals you want to have. Awareness is something you either have or don't have. Now for caging. You can keep a boa or corn or python in really just about anything and I have had escapes. With venomous you need to have locking secure cages completely escape proof to the best of your ability. I won't knock any cages as I have kept venomous in everything from Vision to all glass. You should have a lock on all cages and glass with screen tops are very dangerous especially for vipers. Modifications are needed to make these type more secure.
The room they are kept in should be maintained as escape proof. Vents sealed or screened inside and out. Doors should have a stop at the bottom that hits the door itself from the floor as to allow no room to get under and doors should have locks to prevent unwanted entry. Base boards should be caulked to the floor. Windows should be screened inside and out if possible. This should also include in the worst case scenario and you perish who will come get your animals. If it was not for my wife being a hot keeper also I would want to be sure they go to a facility or person whom I know will give them the care they deserve.
You need to have a source for antivenom for the species you want to keep or at least know where the nearest location that has it is. You should have an emergency contact and protocol book in the room with you to be taken to the hospital with you. Contact local doctors near you to find one that has experience with snake bites and go speak to him and be honest with him as to what you will keep and if he would be willing to help you in the event of a bite. Having a specialist or doctor that you know and knows your wishes can save you a lot of time in the event of a bite. Keep a living will in your protocol book with your specific wishes.
Getting trained. I know its hard to find someone as a rule but patience and persistence pays off. That said, once you find a keeper willing to train you talk to him and watch him work with animals and see if you feel safe around him. If you don't, find another. Don't stick with him so you can say I am trained now. Remember you can adopt his bad habits if you're not careful or try something you see him do and that's not always safe. I love saying "God made reptiles Midwest made tongs."
Last thing. Keep non venomous and aggressive species for a year. Every time you get bit put "I COULD HAVE DIED TODAY" put the time and date and post it where you see it every day. At the end of the year see how many times that year you could have died. If you're a parent write "TODAY I COULD HAVE DIED AND LEFT MY KIDS WITHOUT A PARENT." Ya I know I will catch flack for that but as a parent it's something I thought about.
I don't want to discourage anyone from keeping hots if it is in their heart to do so. But I would like people to realize it is not a graduating experience or for a novice. These are wonderful beautiful animals to work with if everything is done right and safely.
- Scott Bice
Read the article, "So
you want to get trained for hot keeping Part I" by Scott