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Texas Zoo's Viper Day generates venomous reaction

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
June 20, 2012 at 1:20 a.m.
Updated June 21, 2012 at 1:21 a.m.

Haylee Barber, 3, reaches out to touch the smooth skin surface of a ball python on exhibit at the Texas Zoo.

Amanda Rocha isn't afraid of snakes.

But, then, she handles the scaly reptiles more than the average person.

As the Texas Zoo program director and someone who organizes weekly zoo events, Rocha is well aware of some people's reaction to snakes, of both venomous and nonvenomous order.

To help acquaint the public with Texas' many varieties of snakes, Rocha said, the zoo is hosting Viper Day, a seven-hour educational event featuring 15 venomous snakes and about 40 others with less harmful bites.

But some people are spitting venom about Viper Day because the event's featured guest snake experts are people they say a zoo should not endorse.

Rick and Eric Timaeus, of Animal Planet's "Rattlesnake Republic," a reality show about men wrangling and hunting rattlesnakes throughout Texas, will speak about snake education, safety and awareness and conservation.

Cindy Schneider, a retired Victoria resident and member of the Texas Zoo, does not support the reality stars' visit.

"The zoo says they're promoting conservation, but these men go out into rattlesnake territory, where they're not bothering anyone, and kill them. They end up being used for hat bands, belts and other things," Schneider said. "You've got to have some compassion for the snakes, too. I'm not a snake person, but they have a place on the Earth, or they wouldn't be here."

Rocha defended the zoo's event, saying organizers are "trying to capitalize on their notoriety to get our message out there, as well as their message - which is snake conservation."

But opponents say the "Republic" stars promote hunting and killing of rattlesnakes for game and money.

As a frequent zoo visitor, Schneider said she supports the zoo and its endeavors to educate the public about animal conservation. But she does not support an event that features the controversial reality stars, who do not exhibit animal conservation on their show.

"I think the show at the zoo is going to be educational. But they're getting guys in there who are promoting the slaughter of rattlesnakes on their show.' If you want to bring in someone to talk about murder, you wouldn't bring in Charles Manson."

Rocha said people should remember "Rattlesnake Republic" is entertainment.

"I can't speak for Animal Planet, and I can't speak for these gentlemen, but I know they try to help ... so I really think they can have a strong educational message" at Viper Day, Rocha said.

Rocha said she isn't surprised the "Republic" stars are bringing out the fangs of the public, who have commented 111 times on the zoo's Facebook page in opposition to the Timaeus' visit.

But she insists the zoo is not endorsing the show nor its cast members and has no plans to cancel their scheduled appearances at Viper Day.

"I don't watch the show and I didn't book these people ... but I know the Timaeus' are nice people and they really care about the environment," Rocha said. "We try really hard here to always show our snakes in a positive light, so it's really unfortunate that this has become such a negative thing for us."



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