I thought I would interrupt my travelogue about my latest trip to Africa to tell you about a really neat exhibit I saw this past week. Whenever I talk to people about coming to Africa the first question I get asked is “is it safe?” As stated in a previous blog post here Is it Safe to Travel to Tanzania, the answer is – yes, it is very safe.
Some of the more popular other questions include what is the food like? Or will I really get to see lions up close? But somehow potential travelers are more worried about encountering snakes than any other single thing.
Popular media has made people think that when you go to Africa you are going to be walking around a snake infested area à la Indiana Jones and that you will get bit, take one step, collapse dramatically and then It’s goodbye, Cleopatra. But that is not the case. In fact in my 12 years of going to Africa I have seen a total of 3 snakes and never in any area where I have stayed in a camp or lodge. I saw one on the side of the road, one squished in the middle of the road and one in the mouth of a bird.
But if you are in Southern California and you want to see snakes (and lizards, frogs, alligators and all sorts of amphibians) in a nice safe way then go to the Los Angeles Zoo and check out the brand new LAIR exhibit. LAIR stands for Living Amphibians Invertebrates Reptiles, and My wife Diane and I were lucky enough to be invited on the beautiful opening day in early March. It was fun, with a ribbon cutting ceremony by one of our local politicians (I won’t start in with the politician-snake jokes as our L.A. City Councilman Tom LaBonge is a good guy).
With the help of animal lover and champion Betty White and contributions from other generous LA Zoo donors, the $14. 1 million LAIR’s principal building is beautifully designed with a green roof – that is, covered with plant life to keep things cool inside — and cool-looking tile patterned to look like a giant snake skin. There are snakes and other reptiles and amphibians from all over the world including some green mambas, an arboreal venomous snake from Africa. And being able to see them up close you can really experience how beautiful they are – especially when on the other side of a thick piece of glass. Named after Betty White, America’s funniest senior citizen and animal lover, “Betty’s Squeeze Room” also includes the Chinese Mangshan viper and the bushmaster, the largest venomous snake of the Americas.
So if you want to see snakes come to the LA Zoo, because in Africa you won’t see them up close — if at all.