A new snake, a big one, is taking up a lot of space at Oklahoma City's rattlesnake museum
Growing up in Nevada with relatives in Oklahoma, Carl Sandefer took frequent trips across the western states, which included stops at roadside attractions that offered a chance to see live rattlesnakes and other serpents.
That upbringing inspired Sandefer to open the OKC Rattlesnake & Venom Museum in the Stockyards City district of Oklahoma City.
Sandefer, 60, has worked at the Oklahoma City Zoo and has experience selling fish and other small reptiles. He would frequently hear from someone who found a poisonous snake and didn't want to kill the creature, but couldn't keep it around the house
"Every now and then people would bring us a rattlesnake or a copperhead that they found in their yard and they didn't want it," Sandefer said.
So he opened the museum last year where those snakes could find a home.
One of the snakes on display is a 25-foot python named Jakarta that weighs more than 200 pounds.
Jakarta eats a large frozen rabbit every three weeks.
"She doesn't do a lot or spend a lot of energy," Sandefer said.
The museum is open year-round and is free, relying instead on donations.
Sandefer said the museum had about 300 visitors a day during spring break in March.
"We have a good number of animals down here that people don't often get to see up close," he said.
The museum includes a pygmy rattlesnake that was recently found in a yard near Shawnee, along with a water moccasin caught in southeast Oklahoma.
Sandefer said there have not been any water moccasins found that he knows of in central Oklahoma.
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"There are reports that they are making their way up toward southwestern Oklahoma south of Lawton. But just because a snake is found in a county doesn't mean it came from that county," he said.
Sandefer said 90 percent of people who are bitten by poisonous snakes have been trying to catch it or handle it. It is rare that a snake bites a person unless confronted. But there are dangerous snakes around homes in central Okahoma, mainly the copperhead, he said.
Sandefer was bitten by a western diamondback rattlesnake in southwest Oklahoma while working on a book about centipedes. He said he survived the venom and was not hospitalized.
There is also a deadly black mamba snake and a king cobra at the museum. All of the snakes still have their venom and handlers have to be careful cleaning their cages and taking care of them, Sandefer said.
He said his museum is a throwback to the roadside attractions that feature rattlesnakes, many along Old Route 66.
"This is kind of a tribute to the sideshow snake and reptile exhibits," Sandefer said. "I grew up in Nevada and every other summer we came back to see our grandparents and we always stopped at all the snake shows in Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico."