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Senior Correspondent

Neighbors' complaints of a terrible smell led to the rescue of 156 pythons in the home of a 6th grade elementary school teacher in Santa Ana, California. What had been a snake breeding business for the teacher turned into a nightmare of hoarding live and dead snakes and innumerable rats amidst loads of dirt and trash. Had the succession of deaths in the family in the last 5 years pushed him over the edge? What made the snake breeder into a cruel snake hoarder? What was the sordid path that took the "effective, engaged and kind teacher" to jail with a charge of felony animal abuse. It was said that the pythons, including a panda pied python that could sell for $45,000, were worth $100,000.

A snake lover named Jason Haywood, President of Southern California Herpetology Association & Rescue, put together a team of volunteers to bring these snakes back to health. He has spent a good deal of his own money along with contributions to take proper care of these snakes. And he has no intention of selling them. Besides nurturing these sick snakes, his goal is to give them all away, including the one worth $45,000, to schools, youth groups, and nature centers to teach kids about snakes. He wants to give kids the chance to appreciate snakes and not fear them.

I understand his mission because I have always felt more respect for snakes than fear. One of the pictures I treasure most is me in Thailand with a snake wrapped around me. I have a big smile on my face and the enduring memory of the incredible strength I could feel coursing through its body.

Most human animals have far too little understanding how animals in general, and snakes in particular, behave and feel. Would there be less need to teach children not to be afraid of snakes if some animal other than a snake had handed Eve the apple? Just where are we heading in our relationship with our kin, the other animals of our planet? We have deprived so many animals of their natural habitat that coyotes, bears, and kangaroos, for example, have faced the dilemma of going extinct or learning how to survive in human neighborhoods.

How did the python turn into an "invasive reptile" in Florida where wildlife workers and volunteers in Python Patrols are trained to catch them? Those who buy baby pythons as pets eventually discover they can't handle what the pythons can become – 20 feet, 200 pounds, hungry enough and capable enough to kill and eat a crocodile, and able to live for 25 years. They turn them loose in pretty places like Everglades National Park and think they will be okay in such a natural habitat. But these pythons are not natural in the Everglades and wreak havoc with the wildlife that is native to that area. Add among the invasive species list in the Florida Keys former pet boa constrictors, North African pythons, a large Argentinian lizard, and a species of lizard from the Nile River, and you can understand why 450 trained responders and 2,625 detectors in the Python Patrol are busy.

There once was a balance of nature. But the human species doesn't seem capable of understanding either animals, or how to respect the balance of nature.

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