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Snakes Alive: Serpentarium Magic

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Snakes Alive: Serpentarium Magic

Henderson Serpentarium Offers Slithering Specimens

My mother wouldn’t get along with Walter Kidd. To her, the best kind of snake is a dead snake. To Kidd, snakes are so beautiful and wonderful that he built a business out of his fondness for reptiles.

If you flipped out while watching “Snakes on the Plane,” you won’t enjoy a trip to Kidd’s Serpentarium Magic in Mills River.

If hanging out in a two-story room filled with huge aquariums loaded with snakes, lizards, turtles and spiders, is your idea of a fun hour, then this is the place for you. When it opened two years ago there were about 100 snakes, but now Kidd has nearly 300 snakes with almost 200 on display.

Recently he answered several questions about his business and why he has a fondness for legless creatures.

the828: When did you get into snakes?

WK: My parents tell me stories from before I can remember anything of me bringing snakes home and sneaking them into my bedroom trying to keep them as pets. My first memory of a snake was when I was about three years old and watching Marlin Perkins on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and Marlin had been catching snakes, so we went out to catch snakes too. As luck would have it we found one in our neighbor’s barn. We did not demonstrate the same courage and skills which Marlin Perkins had demonstrated, we ran home screaming, “Snake!” Of course, every one of the adults grabbed a hoe, shovel or some sort of life-ending tool for the snake. I begged them not to kill it because it was so pretty.
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the828: Why did you get into snakes?

WK: You see, I had always felt like I was an underdog. My mother was from Puerto Rico, which generated much bullying and harassment growing up in a little southern town in North Carolina. Then I was the youngest in the family and I was the smallest kid in school, plus we were poor. So I always favored and related to the underdog and snakes were the underdog. No one liked snakes! But I found them so beautiful and the way they crawled, so effortlessly and graceful. They could hide in plain sight, even the most colorful ones, flicking their tongues tasting the air to find out what was around and their never ending stare, not having eyelids they cannot blink. Even as a child I knew they were so misunderstood and thought of as evil and I saw a beautiful graceful creature that simply wanted to live be left alone and eat mice.

the828: What made you start the serpentarium? Tell me about the process of opening the business.

WK: Every time I go out of town I find a zoo or serpentarium to visit. Some I liked their displays and, of course, some I did not. But I wanted to make some kind of plan without too much in each so it would not be so “busy” that it took away from the snakes. That is one thing I disliked with some serpentariums or zoos, they would have so many decorations, and you could not enjoy or sometimes, even, find the snake. I sat down with my contractor and told him what I wanted and liked and he built the displays. Nearly 40 percent of our displays are back access only and all but 12 of the displays upstairs have dividers in them so we can double the size if need from 44 inches long to 88 inches, if needed. I have been collecting and doing educational shows since 1991.

the828: Which is your favorite snake, and why?

WK: I’m not sure I can say which is my favorite snake, sometimes it changes day to day. But if I had had to pick a couple, our two-headed corn snake would have to be one for its oddity. Then I really like any of the odd patterned ones or odd color morphs, like albinos. Then the rarer snakes, like the Albino Eastern Hognose Snake, Aruba Island Rattlesnakes, Ethiopian Mountain Vipers, Mangshan Vipers and Santa Catalina Island Rattlesnake. I just love the more oddball and more rarer the more I love them.

the828: How safe of an environment is the serpentarium for visitors?

WK: The environment of our serpentarium is safe for both our animals, as well as our visitors. All the cages are locked and has quarter-inch tempered glass. There are only two sets of keys and I keep one set on me and the other is in a locked cabinet. We understand many of our animals are venomous and can be harmful if we had any kind of accident so safety for our animals, ourselves and our customers are always number one priority.

the828: You take snakes to schools and have groups visit, what are those experiences like?

WK: Yes, we love working with and educating the children. They have such open minds and are so willing to learn, they are like sponges. If we take snakes to the schools we are limited to only taking non venomous, but we take native and non-native species which are clam and tame enough to take out and let anyone who wished touch them. We try to match our education programs with the age groups as to not overwhelm them with information, but I have to say the kids sure are smarter these days. If they come by the serpentarium we allow them to walk through at their own pace with several volunteers to answer any of their questions as they tour. Then we bring them together in the center of our facility and give some educational fact and information and answer any and all questions they may have. After that we get out many of our friendly non-venomous for anyone who wished to touch or hold a snake.

the828: How did you get some of the specimens?

WK: Many of our local specimens were collected by getting phone calls from people who had a snake in their yard and did not want to kill it, but just wanted it out of their yard. Some of the more rare and exotic specimens we got from breeders from all over the world. We have an US Fish and Wildlife Import Export License so we have met and know people all over the work who like us are a zoo or serpentarium and will trade us animals or they will, along with other breeders will sell specimens for our displays.

Serpentarium Magic is open 11 am to 6 pm Tuesdays through Saturdays, and 1 to 6 pm Sundays. Adult admission is $7, $5 for kids 6 to 15, and the little ones get in free. It’s located just off NC 280, west of the split with NC 191. You can find out more here, or by calling 828-776-HISS.

Jason Gilmer

Jason Gilmer is a national award-winning writer living in Asheville. He spent a decade as the prep sports writer at the Spartanburg (SC) Herald-Journal and has written one book, "Where Champions Play: Spartanburg County Prep Football." He's been writing about the Asheville music scene for several years and contributes to magazines in North and South Carolina.

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