This is a question that has been asked of me and a thousand (million?) other herp keepers. I think it’s almost a case of once bitten, twice as determined. But seriously, it is something I have pondered but not really found an adequate answer for. They are not cute and cuddly. They bite (when young), they feel cold (not really) and they have funny eyes. And scales.
As a little tacker I was always into animals – frogs, lizards, tadpoles, butterflies, beetles, spiders – you name it, I went looking for it.
I don’t think I ever got over it. It’s hard to explain to people who do not have a fascination with animals, what the attraction is. It’s just there. I think most people actually have it but for a variety of reasons they do not act upon it or ignore it.
Snakes are particularly intriguing. The way they move, the way the eat, the way their metabolism is so brilliantly attuned to the particular environment they inhabit, their ancestry, the development of venoms so potent that that can kill in minutes, all of these things interest me and make me want to know more about them.
There is some part of you that has to overcome a natural fear in the first instance to want to own and keep a reptile. For some reason, I’m not sure if it’s instinct, we fear snakes and many reptiles. Witness a small child when you show them a snake. They instantly recoil. It’s only when you show them that they have nothing to fear that they can then ‘pet’ the snake and overcome their own fears (well, as long as it’s not venomous).
Where I live, every snake is venomous. There is no such thing as a snake that is not dangerous. Copperheads, red-bellied black snakes, mainland tiger snakes and eastern brown snakes all inhabit my local area, so it’s understandable that people fear them. We have no pythons or non-venomous snakes in my area. Just the other day one of the painters doing my house remarked to me that he nearly leapt out of his skin when he saw what looked to be a snake in the grass near where he was painting. It turns out it was a blue tongued lizard, but nonetheless, his fear was well grounded. Living in the area makes you wary of snakes.
I think this is somewhat unfortunate. Snakes are more scared of you. How big you must appear to a snake. Standing still when you see one will prevent an attack. They only attack when threatened. Slowly backing off is also a good thing to do.
So why keep them? I think it is a duality of fear and fascination. And the trouble is that once you have one, you want two, and then three etc. If you have them, you know the feeling.
Another aspect is the actual act of managing to keep an animal that is not naturally suited or normally kept as a pet in an artificial environment. Learning about its needs, how to maintain optimal health, how to breed it, how to ‘tame’ it and how to enjoy it for what it is. These are challenges that herp keeping offers that few other pets do.