Monday, August 16, 2010

Fear And Loathing

Gun folks are familiar with the hysterical shrieking of gun-haters and gun-banners. We almost universally agree that the solution to their repeated attacks is education, since fear and hatred of guns is founded in ignorance and lies.

Why, then, do those same reasonable and rational gun folks so often act just like the panty-wetting hoplophobes where snakes are concerned?

I see it on blog after blog, forum after forum. People who decry the closed-minded screeds of those who do not or will not learn the truth about guns cheerfully talk about killing snakes on sight simply because they are snakes. A few distinguish between venomous and non-venomous species, allowing the former to live but slaughtering the latter. All express a deep-seated loathing of suborder Ophidia. I find none of these attitudes defensible. The overwhelming majority of snakes are harmless, incapable of inflicting injury on a human more severe than a paper cut.

I don't fear guns, I respect them. I strictly observe the protocols necessary for handling and using them safely. I don't fear dangerous snakes, I respect them. And just as with guns, strictly adhering to safety protocols in their presence prevents serious injury or death. When out in venomous snake country, wear proper clothing. Watch where you walk, sit, and put your hands. Maintain good situational awareness. Sound familiar?

Recently, a fool in Papillion, Nebraska, died after his red-tailed boa constricted around his neck. That incident was just as preventable as the "accidents" that happen when idiots disregard Col. Cooper's Four Rules.

Just as with guns, ignoring the basic safety rules around dangerous snakes can lead to serious injury or death. Large constrictors must never be handled alone. Putting one around your neck is as stupid and dangerous as pointing a loaded gun at your face. Anyone familiar with the "rear naked choke" knows how little it takes to incapacitate or kill a person by applying pressure to certain areas of the neck. The snake lacks the anatomical features we exploit when learning counters to chokeholds. Unwinding a constrictor must be done starting from the tail and working forward. It's impossible to remove one from your body starting from the snake's head.

The current python problem in Florida is not the snakes' fault, but just as with green iguanas, was caused by irresponsible people failing to keep their exotic pets confined or deliberately dumping them into the wild. Unfortunately, the climate there is ideally suited for both of these creatures, and that combined with no natural predators have made them victims of their own success.

I've heard people claim that hatred of snakes is genetic in humans, but in the absence of hysterical adults, babies show no fear or aversion. Just as with guns, hatred of snakes is societally conditioned. Education, not extermination, is the solution for both problems.


Lissa said...

Me, I think snakes are cool; I've considered getting a corn snake. Unfortunately, snakes give my husband the type of heebie-jeebies you're describing and I can't imagine my cat would do any better.

I save MY heebie-jeebies for critters that truly deserve it -- HOUSE CENTIPEDES. *shudder* *goosebumps*

falnfenix said...

my SO's friend recently regaled us with his corn snake murder story. he defended it by saying it was "hunting" his daughter. ...right. a corn snake wanted to eat a 12-year-old child. because that makes sense?

he didn't understand why i was so upset. i mean, i only lost my geriatrisnake to old age 6 months ago...and she was most certainly well loved.

ugh. people who wantonly kill snakes get no respect from me.

Hecate said...

When I kept snakes, my cats were fascinated by them. Look, a string that pulls itself!

My horses were used to having snakes around since I actively encouraged them around the barn. Except for being seasonal workers, they are the best rodent control available anywhere.

I've worked in zoos with species far deadlier than anything you'll find in the American wilds -- cobras, saw-scaled vipers, sea snakes -- and was never injured because I rigorously followed the herpetological equivalents of the Four Rules.

Greyhawk said...

Well, while I don't go around shooting every snake I see, neither would I share my house or barn with one. If they stay in the woods they'll get no grief from me, even if I come across them while I'm out hiking.

My front stoop, however, is off-limits on penalty of death.

Patrick said...

I have nothing against snakes. They are beneficial like spiders. However, spiders don't give me the willies. This isn't an issue of education. I know all about snakes... It is a phobia. It's irrational. I know that, but that is by definition.. a phobia.

I'm also afraid of heights, although the heights don't give me the willies. I'm just afraid I'm going to die... :)

I'm with Greyhawk on this one. And Fainfenix... There is no way I could wantonly kill a snake. I would have to get close to it... I don't think I could shoot a snake from 100 yards.

Jeanne S said...

We have 4 snakes in my household -- my lavender cornsnake, my daughter's California kingsnake, my husband's ball python (those first 3 are all quite young & under 3 feet long), and our family boa constrictor who is about 5 feet long (and certainly not strong enough to strangle a human -- was the guy in the news story feeding his snake steroids?!). And of course our 5 cats are utterly fascinated by them, especially the younger kitties.

When I hear about animals hurting/killing humans, it tends to be caused overwhelmingly by human stupidity and/or arrogance. I've been around animals which some have characterized as dangerous my entire life, and I've never been hurt, nor have my mostly-grown kids.

Anonymous said...

Great post. I too respect and allow snakes to live their lives in peace. Granted, we don't have too many venomous ones up here in New England, so it's not the same as in Texas or Arizona, but I try to extend a live and let live attitude wherever I go.

How is the evil pony? Give your equines a big hug from all of us here.


Anonymous said...

"herpetological equivalents of the Four Rules."

And those are??

Jake (formerly Riposte3) said...

I think a lot of it is the way people are raised, and whether there are poisonous snakes where they are raised.

My mom grew up in southwest Virginia, where cottonmouth moccasins are a concern. I grew up in northern Minnesota, where there are no poisonous or dangerous snakes.

When Mom was young, she stepped on a cottonmouth while she was working (barefoot) in the tobacco field. Fortunately, she had stepped on it right behind the head and froze as soon as she did. It gave her quite a scare, but that was it.

When I was young, a friend of mine got bitten by a garter snake, and Mom's initial reaction was panic (well, not quite 'panic' but you get the idea) until she remembered there aren't any poisonous snakes in that area.

To contrast, when I was in high school (in Southwest VA), I was changing after a JV football game (we changed in the fieldhouse) and a snake slithered out from under the pads my clothes were on. Everyone else was panicking and running away, while I just stood there - it was the first year after we had moved, and while I was aware of them, the idea of poisonous snakes hadn't really penetrated my brain yet.

So Mom has a pretty good (but controlled) fear reaction until she verifies it's poisonous or not, while I still have a pretty mild-but-cautious reaction.

Our rule of thumb is to leave black snakes alone, but to kill any cottonmouths that are found in "human" areas (sheds, backyard, maintained trails). Black snakes get put outside the first time they're caught if they get into the house, and killed if they do it again - which is more lenient than with most wildlife, because really they're harmless good to have around for pest control.

falnfenix said...

I've worked in zoos with species far deadlier than anything you'll find in the American wilds -- cobras, saw-scaled vipers, sea snakes -- and was never injured because I rigorously followed the herpetological equivalents of the Four Rules.

man...while i love scalies and slimies more than most critters, i don't think i'd have the guts to work with hots. i respect them greatly and fear them way too much to willingly handle them. the closest i'll get is a hognose, and they only have "toxic" saliva.

Tennessee Budd said...

I like snakes, & I'm aware that they keep pests down. My wife is terrified of them. The first time she told me there was a snake on the back porch, she didn't understand why I didn't kill it.
We have water moccasins, copperheads, & the rare rattlesnake. If it isn't one of them, it's safe; if it is one of them, it's safe unless it's a danger to my family or my animals.

Toastrider said...

Heh. Saw a young black racer a couple weeks back sunning itself on my driveway while I was mowing the lawn. I was nearly as startled as it was; so I just kinda 'shooed' at it while it slithered off.

I've never been /frightened/ of snakes. Wary, yes; careful, yes. But back in high school, the biology teacher had a pet boa constrictor; she tapped me to carry him around for a bit while she cleaned out the terrarium.

Snakes are exceptionally good at reducing vermin population. I'd rather have snakes than rats.

Anonymous said...

Just rescued a rosy boa. He or she is now living in a 40 gallon terrarium on my dining room table. Nice pet so far.

ParaPacem said...

I have respect for all living things, although I make exception for human beings who use their ree will to make evil choices. When mice or rats come in, we use live traps to capture & release them in the woods out back, whereas of course, if a person of evil intent came in, well, we would probably put him in the woods too, but he might be room temperature at the time.
Snakes - I don't really see keeping one as a pet, any more than a tarantula, as I don't think they especially benefit from human interaction, as do our dogs, cats and so on. But certainly I would never harm one, either. We have a number of spiders around here, most are benign, as well as a possum or two, but not too many snakes.
The only exception that I would make would be if one of our dogs encountered a snake and I was not able to separate them safely. If one of my pack were in danger, then sadly, brother snake would have to go to his ancestors.
But I WOULD offer apologies to him before burying him.