July 8, 2010
Teen finds his niche with reptiles
Cincinnatus High School student trains with ‘Dan the Snake Man’
CINCINNATUS — Shondell Wright lifted Esmeralda, a red-tail boa, out of her bin with the help of Dan Chase, the Marathon resident known as “Dan the Snake Man.”
Esmeralda is 10 feet long and weighs 100 pounds. She was one of the larger reptiles among the 25 snakes, alligators, turtles, tarantulas and scorpions that Chase brought last weekend to the Cincinnatus Field Days.
Chase tours the state and the Northeast, showing the public what reptiles are like. He lets people of all ages touch the reptiles’ skins, and teaches about each animal’s habitat, life and diet.
And lately, he has turned to Wright as an assistant.
Wright, 17, had been to Chase’s shows over the years. He offered to help last July when Chase had nobody to assist him during the field days.
The Pitcher resident, who will be a senior at Cincinnatus High School this fall, hopes to be a veterinarian specializing in reptiles.
Wright held an assortment of reptiles for people to look at and touch. He was not afraid when Chase brought out a Gabon viper, one of the world’s most venomous snakes. He ran his hand along the snake’s patterned skin while Chase explained that this viper has the longest fangs, fastest strike and most toxic venom of any snake, “which is why it accounts for 2,000 deaths a year.”
Chase said the viper will not strike unless startled. He held it as he would hold one of the pythons, with its head questing around.
The snake was given up by a man who purchased it online because he thought it looked pretty, Chase said. He did not say if the man was local.
Chase also brings rattlesnakes to his shows.
Wright said he has held alligators and an assortment of snakes, plus the big tortoises that Chase places in the grass for people to examine. He can recite facts about them, such as why a red-tail boa — a tree-dwelling snake — becomes restless on the ground or why it likes to wrap its tail around the person handling it, as an anchor.
“My plan is to do my undergraduate degree at Misericordia University in Pennsylvania, then go to veterinary school at Cornell,” he said.
“This is going to help, that he has worked with exotic animals,” said Chase, who during the school year is a kindergarten teacher for Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES. “I’ve never had anyone work with me who had such a natural feel for reptiles. Some people can know a lot about ’em but not handle ’em.”
Chase’s niece, Carrie Warner, assisted him in his shows, but since she has graduated from Cincinnatus High School, he has been glad for Wright’s presence.
Wright said he has always been interested in animals, including the garter snakes that live around his house.
He was bitten by a garter snake at age 6, and even though that species is not poisonous, the bite left a scar on his left thumb.
Wright’s mother, Shelby, said she is proud that her son is a teenager who can handle reptiles.
“He’s always made good decisions,” she said.
Wright said he would like to take science courses beyond his school’s offerings, but there are none and he is busy with activities such as National Honor Society and soccer.
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