A Facebook friend of mine has been wowing his friend list with an ongoing photo album that features pictures of his reptile encounters on a local (paved) hiking/biking trail. For some reason, I tend not to think of paved trails in terms of snakes. I equate paved trails with urban sidewalks, which is a mistake when you live in Florida.
Grass in the form of lawns is also something I’ve had to reconsider. I can’t imagine walking barefoot through it or spreading a blanket on it. I have had encounters with fire ants that would argue in favor of always wearing possibly ugly closed shoes in spite of prevailing fashion edicts.
These are two reasons why I enjoyed the Jacksonville Zoo. I could momentarily let my guard down in a controlled environment and enjoy venomous snakes and poisonous toads from behind glass. Lightning aside, I didn’t leave the zoo with the feeling that I had survived something, which is how I often feel when I’ve been kicking around a park. The way things are nowadays, though, I might make the same observation about shopping in Los Angeles or flying to Chicago.
The zoo’s reptiles are categorized by geography, not by species. The zoo is divided into geographic zones covering Africa, South America, Asia, Australia, and Florida. The majority of snakes are in the African and South American sections of the zoo. I was excited to learn that the zoo had a bushmaster, an extremely venomous pit viper found in South America. The bushmaster turned out to be a bit of a disappointment, photographically, so I am not including it here. I was unable to get a clear photo of it without reflection off the glass. An Aruban rattlesnake provided a much better opportunity. This snake is critically endangered, so it’s on a “see it while you still can” list.
I also saw an anaconda, which reminded me of a television show I saw in which the anaconda is hunted by a method that I have tried to push out of my mind. The giant aquatic snake is hunted by barefoot men who squish their feet through muddy river bottoms, hoping to step on one of the creatures. When they locate one, they shout out and rush to grab it. Victorious, they haul it out of the water, all fifty feet of it. Okay, so fifty feet is an exaggeration, but the snake can grow up to 17 feet. If given a choice of occupations between hunting the anaconda and cleaning Port-a-Pots, I would select the latter each time.
Before going to the Jax Zoo, I hadn’t been to a zoo in years. The San Francisco Zoo, which struggles along and at my last visit was sorely in need of cosmetic refurbishing, lists under “reptiles” an anaconda, a desert tortoise, and a garter snake. The Oakland Zoo has eight snakes. I don’t mean to suggest that California isn’t an interesting environment, but it pales in comparison with Florida. Nearly everything does, though. I used to think of California in outsized terms as a state of giant cartoon blooms and vast swaths of desert and expanses of sky, but it is Florida that is really the outsized state. Our wildlife is deadlier, our woods are greener, our oceans are bluer. So we don’t have mountains. That would have been too much to handle in a state jam-packed with environmental, geographic, and natural thrill. Even our commonplace is uncommon. That may be Florida’s biggest selling point. The only thing that comes close is Australia.