My wife saw the little brown snake slither under the back door into our “mudroom”—the part of the house where our boys regularly deposit 57 shoes, balls from various sports, a homemade longbow, fireworks, and the socket set I can never find.
Leisa is outdoorsy, with not one but two green thumbs, and she appreciates snakes because they right-size the mole and mouse population. Okay, she’s hoping for full-scale rodenticide. To her mind, mice are evil and snakes are welcome—just not in the mudroom.
The snake-in-the-house thing made for a fun social media post, and the responses were humorous or sympathetic. But one was different. It expressed alarm.
The reply came from my longtime friend in sub-Saharan Ghana, where I spent my childhood years. His comment read, “Saw a message from Leisa on Facebook this morning about a snake entering your house. Any current news about it please. We are much concerned. Praying!!!”
I quickly assured my friend that Michigan snakes, for the most part, were not venomous. A Ghanaian’s experience with reptiles is quite different than a northerner’s.
The incident reminded me of the flipside of that “snake” problem. I once wrote an article about parking my tricycle on a spitting cobra. This, of course, happened in Ghana not Michigan. My ancient tricycle was made of iron, and it trapped the young cobra beneath the front wheel. I scrambled off the trike and scurried into the house yelling, “Snake!”
It was surprising to me—indeed, shocking—at how many readers wanted to know what happened to the snake. Uh, Dad KILLED IT DEAD WITH A SHOVEL. I didn’t realize I needed to mention that part. My readers were displeased with this necessary outcome. They wanted a happy ending. To my mind, any snake story that ends with a live toddler and a dead snake is a happy ending. That is the way we handle things in Africa.
In suburban Michigan, my son had playfully escorted the corn snake out of the mudroom and back where it belonged—in the garden. But to play with a cobra in Ghana is akin to jaywalking during rush hour in Chicago. Unless you want to literally meet God today, it just isn’t done.
I love nature, but I harbor few romantic myths about it. Those who must interact with the outdoors, as opposed to those of us who are able to be ecotourists or take a pleasant vacation in the northwoods, are far more likely to become adept at subduing nature. In other words, those who live in the wild regions we idealize will unhesitatingly kill what threatens to kill them. Their life is not a mere lifestyle; it is survival. The rest of us should balk at making moral judgments about this, even as we dodge the deer and turkey that cross the road during our morning commute.
There’s a reason we love zoos and nature parks. It’s fascinating to stand on the safe side of the barrier and watch the tigers pace back and forth. If you stay long enough, one of them will begin to study you. One wonders how well-fed these gorgeous creatures are, and if one has ever broken free. It may look and move like a large house cat, but no tiger is ever “domesticated.”
We like to take nature at its wildest and put it on exhibit, or own it in the delusion that we can control it. But that isn’t stewarding nature the way that God intended for us to do. The animal kingdom isn’t for us to play with. It’s for us to manage.
We tend to like exotic pets, but there is no practical reason to have one. And there’s quite a downside. If you need a side gig, you might try hunting Burmese pythons in the Everglades for extra cash. Florida now has a completely avoidable snake problem. Thousands of constrictors are taking over the swamps. Pythons have no natural predators in Florida, and they have killed alligators! Twenty-five dollars a foot, if you’re interested. But officials don’t want these snakes alive. Bring ’em in dead. Perhaps we’re learning from the Ghanaians.
Florida’s snake problem is due in no small part to well-meaning people who simply wanted a pet. Constrictors are fascinating creatures, but they’re not pets. They’re muscular predators, and you are on the menu. A python doesn’t belong in the house, and at some point that truth will become evident. For instance . . .
My daughter’s good friend had a Burmese python. It got to be six or seven feet long. The snake would occasionally get on her bed while she was in it. One day it stretched out in a straight line beside her. She found that odd, so she called the veterinarian and asked if this was normal. “Get rid of the snake right away!” the vet said. “He’s measuring you to see if he can eat you.”
Unwanted snakes have to go somewhere, right? Why not outside? Because, that’s horrible mismanagement of the animal kingdom, that’s why. You can bet just a few of these “freed” reptiles created Florida’s current ecological crisis.
A similar dynamic happened in suburban Detroit. Ligers aren’t mythical creatures from Napoleon Dynamite. They’re often the result of attempts to circumvent tight regulations about keeping lions or tigers as pets. Crossbreeding these animals may sound novel, but it isn’t natural, and there’s no good reason to do it. Drug dealers are especially fond of keeping crossbred big cats. That’s how the occasional liger gets loose in, for instance, Warren, Michigan. News flash: these creatures have to eat. Did you leave your dog in the back yard? Might want to rethink that.
“Nature, red in tooth and claw,” wrote Tennyson. That’s something to keep in mind as we fine-tune our wildlife management practices. A wise course of action will have a place for all of God’s creatures: the tigers and snakes, as well as the people.