On my visit to South of the Border, I couldn’t resist touring the Reptile Lagoon, a walk-through zoo featuring alligators, endangered crocodiles, rare turtle species and more than 100 exotic (usually venomous) snakes.
Each animal a visitor sees on the self-guided tour occupies a simulated habitat, and in the case of the snakes, thick glass viewing panes separate guests and reptiles. Now, I quite like the idea of having thick glass between me and anything deadly. It lets you get a close look at an animal for as long as you like without, you know, dying, so I’m still not sure why I accepted the offer from curator Manuel “Manny” Gonsalves to take a quick tour of the back room where they keep even more snakes.
Wooden cages with hinged-glass doors lined the walls, most of them labeled with signs warning of the venomous reptiles inside. From behind the glass of one such cage, a rather large king cobra stared out.
“That’s quite a snake,” I said.
“Oh, that’s Junior,” Gonsalves said, reaching for his key ring.
I noticed that beneath the word “Danger” and above the words “Venomous Reptiles,” someone (and I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess it was Gonsalves) had scribbled, “Not Really! It’s Jr.” To the left of the danger sign, a bumper sticker read, “My Cobra is Smarter than Your Honor Student.”
“I’m a big king cobra fan,” Gonsalves said, removing the lock and flipping open the glass pane separating us from Junior. “I’ve raised him since he was a baby.”
Before you could say Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, Junior was hanging part way out of the cage, and somehow, I was a few feet farther away from Manny and Junior than I had been two seconds before.
Manny just grinned as he moved a hand to support Junior’s prodigious body. He posed easily for a minute or so while I snapped a few photos and then coiled Junior back into his cage.
“Ah, Junior,” Gonsalves said. “He just wants to hang out.”