Friday, June 14, 2013

The American Rattlesnake Museum

Almost last but certainly not least on our itinerary was the International Rattlesnake Museum, nestled in Old Town Albuquerque. As a lifelong lover of all things reptilian, I had been excited to get there since I paid my trip deposit. We all gathered there right as the doors were about to open. The owner hadn’t even let out the resident rescued tortoises that lived in a pen out in the front. After the obligatory group shot, we got a quick introduction and were turned loose. 
Bob in his natural habitat.
The owner and operator of the museum, Bob Myers, has been running this place for over 20 years, and was one of the friendliest and most enthusiastic people we met out of all our “backstage” museum contacts. Despite caring for, raising, and breeding hundreds of snakes and other scaly creatures for several decades, he has only been bitten once! We were turned loose on the museum for a while before a group presentation we got all for ourselves.
            The museum itself is in a location half the size it ought to be, and is packed to the brim with all manner of reptiles, many alive, but also in art, memorabilia, and history. Despite the less-than-ideal conditions, everything was well laid out, informative, and certainly interesting. I appreciated the dedication to not just displaying live animals but also showing their relationship with us in context. Additionally, there was a heavy focus on treating the public misperception of rattlesnakes and providing education for both children and adults. A personal high point of the displays was an entire series of shelves (a sizable exhibit in a museum of this scale) dedicated to the late Steve Irwin, who was a childhood hero of mine.

A sample of the diverse collection of herpetological media on display.

Crikey, that's a lot of stuff!
 While we didn’t end up visiting many animal-related places on our trip, this one left the best impression by far. The museum has 34 varieties of rattlesnake, more than many of the nation’s largest zoos’ collections combined. Bob is known for raising rarer breeds of rattlesnakes, as well as having uniquely colored specimens—and the museum is considered a resource for other institutions around the country. Bob’s care isn’t limited to snakes though; lizards, insects, and even a snapping turtle we witnessed in mid-lunchtime all live on display, and there are many more backstage.
You should see the ones in Maryland...
The New Mexico state lizard, the whiptail, aka "little velociraptor"

The animals looked clean and healthy, and as Bob talked to us about running the museum, he definitely seemed experienced and competent—a worthy caretaker and spokesman for these often maligned creatures.

The high point of the discussion was definitely the ball python handling, where even some of the less-brave of the group ended up getting to play with the friendly snake. Eventually, I had to let someone else have a turn with her, though.
Sadly, despite Rod bonding quite well with our python friend, my requests for a new trip mascot were denied.
 My only complaint with our tour was that we had to cut it short because Bob was so enthusiastic in teaching us. While we didn’t really see many other visitors interact with the museum (as we literally took up most of the space), I can imagine that Bob is more than good at talking to children.  
One of the best museum design ideas we saw on the whole trip. Simple but effective.
Overall, this was a trip highlight for me. I am impressed with how well the museum seems to be doing, despite its size and relative obscurity. The only improvements I can think to offer are to expand, and to keep doing what they’re doing. All that money I spent at the gift shop felt totally worth it. At the end, we all received a “Certificate of Bravery,” that patrons receive for entering the museum. While I never had any qualms about going in, it was a nice little way to end a great visit. I’d highly recommend everyone, even those ophidiophobes out there, to “slither on by” this fantastic place. 

And now, have a snake montage.

Hello there, Grumpy Cat--I mean, Diamondback.
Why sssssso sssssseriousssss?

Contrary to popular belief, sidewinders can, in fact, move in other directions.
A rare melanistic rattlesnake, one of Bob's many oddities.
No rattle? No problem.

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