Hypnotised By Snake Eyes

When I was a child, I used to be fascinated by zoos.

The idea of all of these creatures – lizards, mammals, birds, insects – all being kept in the same place seemed too fantastical to exist in reality.

The fact that you could simply walk into these wonderful places (after paying a rather extortionate entrance fee) and gaze as long as you like at all these wonderful creatures seemed all too good to be true.

My parents were always happy to take me there, pleased that I would take such an active interest in animals and how they lived. They imagined that this fascination would turn into a genuine educational interest in Biology. I would, no doubt, grow up to become a Vet or some other kind of well paid Doctor or Scientist – I’m afraid I disappointed both of them in that respect.

The days spent there were full of awe and wonder. The scale and majesty of the elephants surprised and stunned me. I could spend hours studying the strange, yet familiar behaviour of the primates, trying to piece together the missing link between us and them. But, the creatures that interested me most were the reptiles. I still remember the first time I ventured into the reptile house. It was a warm and muggy day, it was even hotter in there.

Pushing through the thick plastic curtains that kept the building warm, a fug of stale air and odd new smells hit my nose.

Tropical foliage wound it’s way up the wall and down from the ceiling – a light mist, emitted from a humidifier, dropped like dew down upon me and hung in clouds at my feet. I felt like I’d entered another world. This wasn’t the primate enclosures and it didn’t feel like the aviary, this was something completely different.

There was a prickly sensation at the back of neck as I edged by way further in. The muggy heat and the new aromas had put me on edge, I was scared and excited all at the same time. With my hand trailing along the vines, I felt my way further through the gloom until I felt the smooth texture of glass and came face to face with a King Cobra. It was motionless, it’s eyes bored into mine, unchanging and unwavering. I stared back and was enthralled. Cold and calculated, I knew that this creature was going to have an enormous impact on my life.

It took time convincing them to invest in my new hobby.

Most parents like to start out with a goldfish to teach their children about the valuable lessons of mortality – without costing them a fortune. I was having none of that though. I read endless books on reptile care and environment management. They soon realised that my interest was not abating and that their only way of appeasing me was by giving in to my demands.

My first reptile was a corn snake, a common starter reptile. My parents asked me what I wanted to call him – and I was speechless.

15 years later he still doesn’t have a name, but he does have plenty more friends.