Most people would have little to no idea there is a black market snake trade in the United States, let alone the extent to which it occurs, how did you become involved in this documentary?
I work for Nat Geo and I was in their offices one day and one of the producers of the Wild Channel there said he was looking for someone to do a thing on snakes. He asked me if I had any interest and I told him that as a matter of fact, I had a lot of experience with snakes for many years and I might be the guy for the job. That was it, basically.
The cross breeding of species to create morphs that can fetch up to $100,000 per reptile, depending on colour and scale patterns is fascinating. As a young man fascinated by snakes, how much did you know about this type of breeding? And was it prolific in that time, or has it only become widespread in recent years?
When I was young, I wasn’t aware of this kind of breeding. The big money snakes are the reticulated pythons. Some are extremely beautiful and often fetch high prices. I became aware of all that about fifteen years ago or so. When I was young, I was not as wired into that higher level world of breeding. I am not now but am far more aware of it.
With pet serpents killing around one person per year, and around 100,000 deaths per year world wide from snake bites, how confident were you that you wouldn’t become a statistic, albeit a very famous statistic, when you were filming this documentary? The scenes with both Arthur and Tim had you right in the thick of things.
Like many situations, handling these animals is a calculated risk and you want to minimise your vulnerability. Even experienced handlers get tagged. I have no confidence with these animals, I think that is downplaying their lethal potential. You can never forget what you’re handling and how quickly a situation can change.
Watching Jessica talking about her bite, and the desperation of the hospital staff in finding the right anti-venom, was heart wrenching. Are you aware of her recovery situation?
I am not, actually. That was a strange case. I hope it ended well.
You mention that you have given away your snake collection due to touring commitments. What was your favourite snake to own when you had them?
Reticulated pythons are a great challenge to maintain and due to their sensitivity and intelligence, they are worth the effort, which is at times, quite considerable. These are huge animals that are stronger than you are. Those were my favourites along with the rat snake, which is a much smaller and easier to maintain animal, but I grew up with them and have always liked them.
The climax of the documentary is without a doubt when Tim injects a lethal dose of Black Mamba venom. Despite his tolerance, and the scientific reason for doing so, he could go into anaphylactic shock and die. It was a tense scene to watch on DVD, how intense was it to watch from beside him? There was clear concern on your face during the first minutes after him injecting the venom.
It was really intense. I have known Tim for quite awhile and have seen the pictures he has sent me of his arm after an injection but had never seen it live. When you know enough about just how powerful the venom is, when you see him injecting it, it’s almost as if you’re watching a film, like you can’t believe what he’s doing. I watched him milk the mamba, weigh the wet venom, put it into the syringe and then into his arm, just like that. It was wild to watch. I couldn’t help but be anxious about it. He walked it off like it was nothing. After about half an hour, you almost forgot what he had just done. He was there with his wife and kid, the very normal family guy, with enough venom in his system to kill a few people. It was a hell of a thing to witness.
Where do you see the future in poisonous snake ownership heading in the near future? Will other states follow the lead of Florida? And what of the illegal importation and ownership of these dangerous reptiles? Tom Crutchfield seems unrepentant.
There will always be people selling and keeping these snakes. Laws will not stop anyone’s curiosity, once it’s at a certain level. If anything, the snakes will only become easier to obtain. I can’t say what the states will do but people will always be wanting something they ‘shouldn’t have’ and do things that are ‘against the law’ or whatever, that’s how people are. Crutchfield sees himself as a conservationist, no question. Others may have a different opinion. I think he has an amazing facility and his animals are in top shape.