At home with snakes and|
other reptilian critters
By Ben Trollinger of the Williamson County Sun
Tim Cole shows off his "real sweet" 7-1/2-foot Yellow Rat Snake. Mr. Cole does not name any of his snakes, he said, because a friend told him "anytime you name an animal, it dies."
But aside from the Diamondback, who refuses to relax from the strike position for almost the entire
interview, most of these snakes are docile.
The display case also holds the Broadbanded Copperhead, an Amelanistic Corn Snake, an Eastern Hognose, a Texas Coral Snake, a Mexican Milk Snake, a Grey Banded Kingsnake, a Texas Rat Snake, a Western Cottonmouth, and a Blotched Water Snake.
Some things to consider: Snakes are not poisonous. "Poisonous is something you might accidentally eat; venomous is something that might bite you," Mr. Cole says.
Don't name your snakes. "I don't name any of them. A friend of mine said that any time you name an animal, it dies," he says.
A Broad Banded Copperhead relaxes at home in Georgetown.
As you walk into Tim Cole's home, the first thing you hear through the whir of aquarium aerators is the sharp rattle and hiss of a Western Diamondback. Luckily it's safely stowed in a clear plastic container on Mr. Cole's coffee table - along with 10 other native snakes.
Mr. Cole is a little surprised that it's the rattlesnake putting on airs.
"Usually, it's the Texas Rat Snake that's the most uppity," he says.
Most of the snakes laid out in the display case on the table "are a little cranky," says Mr. Cole, because they are just waking up from a three-month hibernation period.
Snakes may rule the roost at the Cole home, but other reptiles
like this Bearded Dragon also receive love and attention.
Mr. Cole lifts a seven-and-a-half-foot long Yellow Rat Snake out of a bucket and says, "This one's real sweet."
Watching him work, you get the sense that if Tim Cole had been in the Garden of Eden he would have known exactly what to do - set the air-conditioning on high and blast the serpent into hibernation. At the very least, he would have been able to tell Adam and Eve if that slithering serpent was venomous or not.
Max, Mr. Cole's humongous black Giant Schnauzer, seems almost blase to their slithery presence. "He's used to it," Mr. Cole says as he lifts the Eastern Hognose close to Max's snout.
Along with Max, Mr. Cole lives in Georgetown with his long-time girlfriend Deb, whom he met while working at a pet store in Austin.
"She was a regular, she came in to buy crickets for her lizards," he says. "She didn't have any snakes when we first met - she was more into turtles."
The couple is currently building a turtle run in the garage, but that project is under wraps, Mr. Cole says.
Their home is a herpaton, really, jam packed with tanks and lush terrariums featuring an untold number of rare lizards, snakes, turtles, and tortoises.
"It's hard to say how many," he says without a trace of irony.
Born in a suburb of Chicago, Mr. Cole has been a reptile enthusiast for more than 30 years. He has worked at zoos and pet stores and in the field as an animal control officer. In addition to holding a Texas Parks and Wildlife Rehabilitation Permit, he is also a State Advanced Certified Animal Control Officer and "the Reptile Team Leader" with Wildlife Rescue Inc.
For the last 10 years, Mr. Cole has owned and operated Austin Reptile Service, which offers educational programs for schools and daycares, as well as reptile safety seminars for state and city employees who may come into contact with reptiles. Mr. Cole also points out that he is available for birthday parties, which he says alwys keeps him busy on most weekends.
Mr. Cole has appeared on the Animal Planet program "Venom ER" with Shawn Bush, where he talked about how to identify native Texas snakes.
As much as Mr. Cole is into educatoial aspects of his profession, he also can put on his resume one of the most glamorous job descriptions in history - movie snake wrangler.
He is the point man for any film crew working in texas with the end goal of getting moviegoers to squirm.
"If we don't have it, we usually can find it," says Mr. Cole, a member of the Texas Film Commission.
But he is adamant about casting the right reptile. Remember the scene in "Raiders of the Lost Ark," where Harrison Ford is surrounded by knots of snakes and asps? Mr. Cole can set you straight.
Along with the Texas Coral Snake, Mr. Cole owns a Broad Banded Copperhead, an Amelanistic Corn Snake, an Eastern Hognose, a Mexican Milk Snake, a Gray-Banded Kingsnake, a Texas Rat Snake, a Western Cottonmouth, and a Blotched Water Snake, among other creatures.
"They fooled a lot of people," he says. "They used European Legless Lizards. I have a couple of those. When [Indiana Jones] said 'I hate snakes' it wasn't as big an issue as it appeared. I'm just a real stickler for using the right animal. I'm not going to use a harmless water snake for a cottonmouth."
Mr. Cole says he has worked on "Two for Texas," a film starring Kris Kristofferson and Tom Skeritt, "Selena" with Jennifer Lopez and the recent remake of "Texas Chainsaw Massacre."
He provided a turtle for the Natalie Portman vehicle "Where the Heart Is."
"There was a turtle scene. The boyfriend was a real jerk and went out of his way to run over a turtle - they cut that," he says.
He also worked on the VH1 program "Surviving Nugent" in which hard rocker and bow-hunting enthusiast Ted Nugent leads contestants trough various survival challenges. Mr. Cole wrangled 30 snakes into a chicken coop and contestants had to gather as many as they could, he says.
"They cut that," he adds. "I also had a cameo in 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre,' but they cut that too - I'm just too darn scary for those movies."
Visit Mr. Cole's website at http://www.austinreptileservice.net/ for more information.