Jamie Coots, the star of Snake Salvation, a popular show on the National Geographic channel, died recently from a bite from a poisonous snake. No, this was not some freak encounter. Pastor Coots often handled dangerous vipers in his ministrations as a Pentecostal preacher in Kentucky. He believed handling snakes was a commandment from God and that, if bitten, it was the will of the Lord. In fact, years ago, Coots had lost part of the middle finger of his right hand from a snake bite. Then, as now, Coots refused any medical attention and died as a result. The incident once again demonstrates that extreme animals can be hazardous to ones health.
Exotic pet fetishes are not that rare in the U.S. While Coots collected vipers for his religious activities, other people are attracted to extreme animals in the specious thought that they are either not dangerous or that somehow they can domesticate them. This notion often results in catastrophic injuries or death.
In addition to reptiles, a number of people in the U.S. and around the world collect such animals as snakes, primates, big cats, bears, marine creatures and even elephants. According to National Geographic, it is estimated that more tigers are kept as pets than there are in the wild. Believe it or not, you don’t have to have a license for a big cat in the United States unless you breed or exhibit them. People can acquire a tiger cub for as little as a few hundred dollars from a breeder or from the Internet.
In recent years, there have been some gruesome examples of what happens to folks who have had extreme pets.
A woman who was visiting her friend in Stamford, Connecticut was critically mauled by that friend’s 15-year-old chimpanzee named Travis. When police arrived, the primate went after them and was shot.
In Pennsylvania, a woman named Kelly Ann Waltz was ferociously attacked and killed by a 350-pound black bear named Teddy she had kept as a pet for nine years.
In Ontario, Canada a man was attacked and killed by his 650-pound pet tiger.
Back in 2011, some 50 exotic animals including bears, monkeys, wolves, leopards, lions, and tigers were released by a Ohio man before he committed suicide. Many of these animals were shot to death by authorities. That incident underscores another reason animal activists want to make it harder to acquire exotic animals. These creatures can escape, endangering innocent people and may potentially spread disease. At the same time, animal activists are worried that extreme animals can also escape into the environment and become an invasive species threatening delicate ecosystems. An example of that is the Burmese python in the Florida Everglades.
Why do people collect extreme pets even though exotic pets can be hazardous to their heath?
Observers say it is a combination of reasons. Among them – some collectors see themselves as hobbyists even though they have no professional experience in handling extreme pets; the dubious desire to have the biggest animal on the block, something larger than a Doberman or German Shepherd; the desire to have surrogate children such a primates like chimpanzees; and a desire to make money through breeding and hence sell offspring. In the case of Coots there was a religious reason why he acquired vipers. Even though it is 2014, some people actually see a “God” in certain animals.
The Pastor Coots death may serve to heighten scrutiny around exotic pets. But until there are tighter rules and regulations, owning extreme animals can be hazardous to ones health.
By Jim McCullaugh