Reptile Museum For Those Who Slither In The Night

And a few with feet snuck in as well
BY: SHANDA LEAR

They’re creepy and they’re kooky, mysterious and spooky. And they are all there at the Serpentarium in La Paz.

In 1992, Victor Velazquez was working at the zoo in Santiago, just north of San Jose, when he met Abraham Blanc, an American animal lover with deep pockets. Abraham would go to local schools and give talks about the various and unique animals in Baja with Victor in tow.

In 1999 Abraham built a facility in La Paz to showcase the many local species of reptiles, sharing them with the public. That facility became the Serpentario de La Paz. It was so promising that in 2001 he went to Cabo San Lucas to open a second facility. And that’s when Abraham Blanc ran into a different kind of snake.

In Cabo, Abraham made a deal with an American guy named Jimmy to clear the property he bought for the new Serpentarim, but the deal went amiss. A “strong discussion” ensued and the next day Abraham disappeared.

Turns out Jimmy was a convicted felon who had done time in prison in the U.S. The police began an investigation and interrogated Jimmy, the last person seen with Abraham. Knowing he was the number one suspect, Jimmy jammed north in his car. Going like a bat out of hell, he smacked into a bus and died. Ja! Justice!

Investigators from the U.S., in conjunction with the Mexican police, searched for two months over a very wide area for Abraham’s body, but it was never found. Unwilling to admit they might not be able to find a dead body in about a million square miles of kitty litter which is our surrounding area, they said it must be in the ocean and they quit looking.

After Abraham’s death, Victor Velazquez teamed up with Javier Uranga, a lawyer who was not a lawyer but who now is, and an associate of Abraham’s from Cabo, to keep the Serpentarium in La Paz going, and 19 years later, the venture is still wobbling along.  Well, slithering along.

Every day between 30 and 40 students from local schools visit the facility while their teachers give lectures on the various inmates. It’s a must-see for tourists and locals alike. Last year the Serpentarium was featured on Animal Planet, the Discovery channel, and the BBC in London.

Currently, it is home to 70 snakes, 55 lizards, 200 turtles, both desert and sea, 25 birds, an eagle, an alligator who was only 10 inches when he arrived 14 years ago and is now nine feet and still growing, and a handful of bunnies, with that populations diminishing. Oh, you don’t think the bunnies are there as food for the others do you? Ohhhh, say it ain’t sooooo.

80% of the animals are indigenous to southern Baja, others are gifts, and the rest are injured animals that are rehabbed at the facility and released into protected areas of the wild. We can only hope that they mean protected areas from us.

Every year Victor gets over 100 phone calls to rescue animals from private homes. Most of the rescues are snakes, but he’s also helped with coyotes, a fox, even a young mountain lion that stayed eight months at the Serpentario and left as an adult. Victor is also working hard to protect and reverse the decline of endangered species. Currently there are 10 extinct species in south Baja, a combination of serpents, turtles, and lizards. People call to have snakes removed from their house? Just what kind of neighborhood do they live in?

To feed the carnivorous animals, The Serpentario raises small mice, rats, crickets, and certain types of insects at the back of the property. They also get donations of old produce from local restaurants which is highly regarded for the fussy vegetarians. The rest of the food costs are paid by donations. Hmmm... we don’t see the bunnies on that menu... Rats and mice, fine. Bunnies, not so fine.

When Hurricane Odile hit 4 years ago, all the animals were put in a protected building in the back of the property. The grounds suffered a lot of damage but the animals were uninjured. The clean-up and the rebuilding of the outside cages and living quarters were done by volunteers, many of them people who had visited the Serpentarium when they were youngsters in school. There was no help from the government, even though after the hurricane Victor got numerous calls from policemen, garbage men, even firemen, (aren’t they supposed to be doing the rescuing?) for help. All over town there were snakes in the mounds of agricultural refuse that were piled in the streets for removal. Victor lured the snakes out of the piles so the trash could be picked up. And the lure? We think bunnies.

As director, Victor lives at the facility with two dogs and oversees the care of the animals and the grounds. He has the help of six volunteers, and a local veterinarian, Enrique Blanco, a specialist in the area of snakes and reptiles. Although there’s no payroll to meet, the costs of electricity and water are very high and rising. With a donation of your support, a plaque with your name will be displayed on one of the animal living areas for one year. Yeah, “Shanda Lear, Snake Lover”.

 Entrance to El Serpentario de La Paz costs a mere 40 pesos for adults and 20 pesos for children and students. Or bring a bunny and see it that gets you in. If it does, that will say a lot. Open from 10:00AM to 4:00PM Tuesday to Sunday, they’re located on Brecha California St., (around the corner from the La Posada Hotel.) Go toward the bay on Nueva Reforma (next to the VW dealership on the Carreterra) then left on Brecha California. They’re #9 in the Got Baja Maps. You can call: 122-5611 for any questions or follow them on facebook at fb.serpentariodelapaz.

Hhhmmm….are we sure that’s Jimmy’s body in the wreckage? Just sayin...