Questions surround missing snake mystery

July 31, 2008 5:33:44 PM PDT
A venomous snake was missing for more than a day at Moody Gardens in Galveston. The great escape happened earlier this month, but it was only when officials were pressed with questions that we learned the truth. The African bush viper did escape from its tank, despite what we were led to believe weeks ago. So why did it take so long to get straight answers?

You can barely see the greenish-brown venomous snake when it blends perfectly with its surroundings, like it's supposed to. But it's where the snake chose to curl up earlier this month that's creating controversy.

"We did not lie to the public," explained Greg Whittaker, Moody Gardens' Animal Husbandry Manager. "There was misinformation between the semantics of what we were explaining, where the animal was."

Whittaker added that procedures are being worked on so that semantics can't be blamed in the future.

The l0-inch snake, known as an African bush viper, was found missing from its enclosure -- a fact Moody Gardens says was not properly explained to the public. The snake was found 36 hours later curled next to the light source above its enclosure, slithering through an opening between the grate and the wall.

At the time, Moody Gardens said the snake did not travel outside its exhibit. Technically, the snake was in the exhibit, which is the large area open to the public, but no one knew where. So why wasn't the area closed off to visitors?

Whittaker said, "With the experience that we were relying on with our on-site animal care people, everybody felt that the animal was within its enclosure. Until we explored all possibilities that it was not in the enclosure, we felt there was no public risk."

Moody Gardens has described the snake as non-threatening and non-poisonous to humans. Officials say they followed their policies ? policies that they set for themselves. However, those policies are reviewed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. That nationwide association issued an accreditation to Moody Gardens in March. Whether this incident will prompt an investigation is unknown. Our calls to the organization have not been returned.

The attraction houses approximately 12,000 individual animals with a total of 750 different species.

Moody Gardens values its reputation, and takes the accusations that it wasn't truthful with the public very seriously. It was the Houston Chronicle that first reported the discrepancies in the information going out to the public.

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