Friday, February 01, 2008

Article: Snake Farm

Capybaras lounging at the Snake Farm

(Note: The Snake Farm has changed ownership since this article was written. I went again during the Fall of 2007 and found conditions much improved. More cages were labeled and new enclosures were being built for the capybaras and some of the other animals.)

If you've ever driven down I35 to San Antonio, you can't have missed the signs for the Texas Snake Farm. It's one of those places you pass over and over again, curious but driving on because you have someplace else to go; a throwback to the days of weekend road trips and roadside attractions. As with all roadside attractions, you have to be a bit skeptical. After all, the so-called World's Largest Pecan in Seguin is just a statue and not even the largest statue of a pecan at that. So is the Snake Farm really a snake farm?

Well, it's certainly not a farm. More than anything it resembles a giant exotic pet store crossed with a zoo from about 30 years ago. Inside are a wide variety of snakes housed in the small plastic containers that are typical among amateur herpetologists. They're simple, safe and efficient but not aesthetically pleasing. Add to that the thick wire cages that surround them and the place looks a bit like a prison.

There are a lot of snakes there though, many of them highly venomous. One of the most beautiful and interesting is the Gaboon viper, a thick bodied, poisonous snake with small horns on its snout and a bold pattern. In the back room there is a well-stocked bookstore dealing mainly with reptiles but also other types of animals. Past the books is a snake pit with maybe two dozen rattlesnakes of various species. The snakes are no more than five feet long and the cement walls of the pit must be twenty feet deep, add the wire mesh lid and viewing is safe but difficult.

Out the back door is an exotic animal park with llamas, miniature horses, longhorn cattle, ostriches, capybara (the world's largest rodent), monkeys and more. In this area the feeling of an old zoo is overpowering. The animals are kept in small cages with minimal adornment. The serval cat paces endlessly, its long legs quickly taking it back and forth along the short wall of its cage. Macaws and other exotic birds perch behind two layers of wire mesh in unlabeled cages.

This was my second visit, the first being many years ago and providing me with an experience that disinclined me to a repeat. As I wandered among the sale items, mostly toys and trinkets, some educational but most not, I was aware that a third visit was highly unlikely. I stared at a bin of alligator heads and wondered what motivated the owner(s). The label on one of the heads indicated that the alligator was farm raised for food. The heads were so small it didn't seem like much meat could have come from such an animal. I have no problem with farming alligators, in fact I think it's a good idea, but I'm still thinking the heads send the wrong message with their tiny gaping mouths and sharp little teeth. What are all of these dead faces saying to the visitors of the Snake Farm?

I wandered around a bit and eventually was able to talk to the owner, John Mellyn. I was prepared to condemn him for his treatment of the animals but instead I found he was a nice, articulate and caring man. He told me that the Farm is a member of the International Primate Protection League, that all (or nearly all) of the animals there are captive bred and that they breed many of the animals and sell or trade them to zoos. He's owned the Snake Farm for the last 13 of its 39 year history. It's a hard place to keep up and it doesn't make much money but he says he loves the work and the animals. He makes a point of helping people overcome their fear of snakes, frequently taking out his large python and letting people pet it.

Now I don't know what to think. I can't decide if the Snake Farm is a good thing or a bad thing. Maybe you'll just have to stop by and decide for yourself. The $7.50 adult admission fee will at least help support the animals. At least visit the web site:

Snake Farm & Exotic Animal Park
5640 IH 35 S
New Braunfels, Texas 78132-4945
(830) 608-9270

Photo: Coral looking over the rows of unlabeled snake cages.

Photo:: An ocelot paces endlessly in its cage.

Photo: Monkeys in a cage

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Disappointed in Obama

There have been some e-mails circulated about Barack Obama claiming that he is a Muslim, that he said the oath of office for his senate appointment on the Koran and that he will not say the Pledge. These things are not true of Obama and I can respect him correcting them. When asked about them in the New Hampshire debate, Obama countered that he is a Christian, that he said the oath of office on the bible and that he sometimes leads the pledge at the US Senate.

That's fine as far as it goes. Where it doesn't go is to say that people of all faiths are Americans. That there is a Muslim man in the US House of Representatives who said the oath of office on the Koran. That should he be a Protestant, a Catholic, a Jew, a Mormon, a Muslim or an atheist, that would not make him unfit for the office of President. That our politicians, as our people, as all people, should be judged on their character as individuals. So I was disappointed. He didn't stand up for religious freedom when he had a chance to do so. Still, I can understand the political realities. I don't absolve him of this oversight, but I understand him.

Then two days ago I got an e-mail that claimed to be from John Kerry about those same erroneous e-mails being circulated about Obama. At one point in the e-mail, Kerry states, "The truth matters, but how you fight the lies matters even more." I don't know about the "even more" part, but I do believe it is important how you fight the lies. Kerry continues on to say, "These disgusing lies ... smear Barack's Christian faith."

Does this say, as I take it to read, that being called a Muslim is disgusting? That it is a smear to a Christian to be mistaken for a Muslim? Is this the kind of language that promotes religious intolerance. This is not language we should condone of any American, let alone a potential president. I hate that someone defending Barack, someone I once supported, feels that it is okay to say this.

I am neither Muslim nor Christian but I would hope that we can strive for the ideals this country was founded on, religious freedom and religious tolerance must go hand-in-hand. Our leaders must promote these values.

(BTW, I've stopped writing my weekly newspaper article so these blog posts have become much less frequent.)

I got an email from the Obama campaign. This is my response to this.

Thank you for your canned response that in no way addressed my issue.

I am concerned that Senator Obama is not willing to take a stand for religious freedom when he feels that it might not be politically expedient. In his comments, and in the email from John Kerry, just the opposite appears to be true; he is willing to sacrifice the religious freedom of a minority for his own gains. Unless minorities have freedom, none of us is free. Not just philosophically but in fact, for we are all in the minority in some demographic.

I want change from the oppressive, fear-mongering policies of the current administration. Please prove to me that you mean to do it.