TBT - (1976) "The Trouble With Boas"

One of the most popular reptilian pets in America is the boa constrictor. Back in the mid '70s, when I was collecting and exporting exotic animals from Honduras with Charlie MacGowan, we had to push the rural native population to bring us the various indigenous snakes most desired by the pet trade - especially boas .

To most Central Americans all snakes are dangerous, and not only had no value - but should be immediately killed. Charlie and I tried to educate the rural population as to which snakes are truly dangerous and to be avoided, and which ones are harmless and can be sold to us. We would also emphasize that many of the snakes, including the venomous ones, are especially beneficial in the effort to control vermin like rats and mice.

People protect what they value in the natural world - that is why conservation only works when indigenous peoples are shown how to benefit from renewable resources - including wildlife. We did our best to encourage the management of renewable resources and show them the many rewards of this approach to conservation - including the financial rewards. Sell us your snakes!

A method I often used to encourage the natives to collect baby boas for us was to demonstrate how they are totally harmless. The Hondurans needed to familiarize themselves with the appearance of boas and how to handle them in a way that did not harm anyone - or the snake. But I have a difficult time with doing anything that is repetitious - and going from village to village giving the same lecture and same old handling demonstrations was getting boring.

The last village I went to that first year - I did something different during the 'this snake is harmless demonstration - watch me pick it up in my bare hands'. When I reached into the bag of baby boas I was carrying for the demonstration I took out a small one and then grasped it around the middle of its body with my lips so that it was dangling out of both sides of my mouth. As soon as both my hands returned to my sides I looked closely at the group of natives arranged in front of me to see their reaction to the snake in my mouth.

There was about twenty of them - men, women and children - all glassy eyed and with their mouths open. Then the damn snaked wiped around and bit me on the end of my nose. The snake quickly let go and so did I. Boa saliva has an anti-coagulate to promote the bleeding death of their prey. So there I was, standing in front of this impressionable crowd with two small holes in my nose spraying out blood on my face and clothes. Some of them fainted - some ran - many were screaming I was about to die.

After I quit laughing and got over my embarrassment of my spontaneous act - I packed my bags and left. I lost this group as potential suppliers.

Familiarity does breed contempt - and foolish acts.