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Old 11-29-03, 05:17 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Holiday for herpetology is a hit

Holiday for herpetology is a hit
Snake experts and fanciers gather at a Des Moines pet store to praise their ssssssssslithery friends.


Being thankful for a 14-foot Burmese python isn't generally what people profess during Thanksgiving dinner. But at Aqualand Pets Plus on Sunday night, giving thanks for snakes was at the top of the agenda.

The first annual "Snakesgiving" event at the pet store at Sixth and Euclid avenues was an informal seminar for snake lovers on how to get permits to keep certain kinds of snakes in the metro area. Tom Weidner, a Des Moines herpetologist and Iowa State Fair Snakes Alive exhibitor, was on hand to answer questions about the process.

Under Des Moines' dangerous-and-exotic-animal ordinance, any snake 6 feet or longer cannot be kept in the city unless the owner has a permit. To get a permit, Weidner said, the owner must have 20 hours of instruction about snake care and handling. Any person who wants to keep a venomous snake must have 1,000 hours of instruction. The Iowa Herpetology Society has offered the classes in past years.

"There are only six people in Des Moines who have the permit. There are lots who claim they do, but they don't," Weidner said as he handled a feisty albino Monaco cobra.

Weidner said it's common for people to just turn large snakes loose when they get bigger than expected. He often takes in the larger snakes that are confiscated by the city. His collection includes more than 100 of the reptiles.

"That's the bad part about showing these guys. It gets people fired up about getting one. By no means am I recommending it," he said. "I just try to inform people about how to get one and take care of it once they have it."

Zach Wright, owner of Bubba, a Burmese python, said he's thankful for his snake.

"Big snakes are really cool, and Bubba is really nice to people," Wright said. Bubba "wouldn't hurt a fly."

Bubba was the star Sunday night. Although other people responded to the invitation to show off their snakes, none of the critters compared to Bubba, who weighs about 100 pounds.

Larry Arnold, co-owner of Aqualand, snapped pictures for kids, adults and the Aqualand Web site.

"We just want to answer questions people might have about snakes," he said.

Colby Crase, 10, of Winterset wasn't scared to carry the python on his shoulders. "It's really heavy and kind of weird, but I'd do it over and over again," he said.

Crase's mother, Tammy, said they made the trip to Des Moines to share Colby's new ball snake. "He's had it about a month and just loves it. I just stand way back," she said.
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