In the mid 1960s, Rom and his friends used to go looking for snakes in the Everglades. On one occasion, he spied a venomous water moccasin on a log in the water. As he pinned its head, the floating log sank a little. If he let go of the snake to make another attempt, it would dive into the water, so the stupid boy grabbed it anyway… bham!

After bagging the snake, Rom hesitantly confessed to his partner: “Hey man, a moccasin bit me.” Without a pause in his stride, or concern in his voice, Schubert drawled in his Southern accent: “Yup, they do that sometimes.” Soon, the arm became very swollen, and the two had to call it quits. Schubert quietly cursed Rom for ruining a good snakey day.

Rom's boss, Bill Haast of the Miami Serpentarium, gave him a day off with great disdain. Other friends commented: “An obvious learner,” “Trying to impress the girls, you dumb [bleep]?” It's the kind of response an electrician who gets an electric shock would receive from his colleagues. Or, anyone who clearly didn't know his job very well.

Another time, one of Rom's friends tried to change the water dish in a western diamondback rattlesnake terrarium when it bit his hand. The now-wise Rom asked: “But, why didn't you put the snake into another box or bag first?” Attila replied: “It was looking the other way, so I figured I could quietly do my job….” At this, everyone burst out laughing, even though their friend was rocking back and forth nursing a very painful arm. Someone did drive him to the hospital eventually.

If a snake catcher gets bitten by a venomous snake, it is his own fault. He was careless, most probably trying to show off, and wasn't paying attention. That was the motto of Rom and his snake-hunting buddies in the U.S. during the 1960s, and it still holds to this day. In keeping with that philosophy, anyone who got bit was teased mercilessly. (Non-snake hunting civilians bitten accidentally were exempt, of course.) There is no doubt that this tradition of peer-admonition has kept these men, most of them, alive to this day.

In India, however, numerous snake-catchers, invariably young men, brag about their various snakebite “exploits”.

One bright spark bagged a cobra in a flimsy translucent bag. When he moved in closer to knot it, the snake nailed him on the hand through the cloth.

He was in hospital for a few days, and in the Indian tradition, the entire neighbourhood visited him to express their concern. Basking in all this attention, our man never once paused to think why the incident had occurred. When he bragged about it numerous times, Rom asked him: “Whose fault was it?” The young man didn't seem sure, but it was certainly not his fault, he declared. Rom countered: “If you had used a proper bag to begin with you wouldn't have been bit, right? So tell me now whose fault was it?” The reply was silence.

When I was soliciting articles for the Croc Bank newsletter, a large number of articles were on snakebite experiences. One was even titled ‘The Badge of Courage', which I was sorely tempted to change to ‘The Badge of Stupidity'. These survivors, perhaps, don't realise that their survival depends on two things: how much venom the snake injects and the skill of the doctors. By getting bit, these snake molesters (as we've now come to call them) haven't really done anything to deserve boasting rights, except being plain, outright inept. That's like a carpenter who misses the nail-head and smashes his thumb bragging about what a cool dude he is!

So, should any of your snake catching buddies suffer a bite and survive, don't throng his bedside and go “ooh” and “aah”. There are already enough contenders for the Darwin Award!

(The author can be reached at janaki@gmail.com)