The Animatress Pipeline

Filmmaking Adventures

A Boy’s First King Cobra

This is a cartoon quickie I drew inspired by the charming SFGATE article featured below:
Reptile wrangler lives to save beloved snakes
Carolyn Jones, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, July 6, 200
9

(07-05) 18:03 PDT — Al Wolf’s cell phone rings. He listens. He nods. He hangs up.

“Rattlesnake at Bishop Ranch,” he tells his assistant, Laurie Osborne. “I’ll get this one.”

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He grabs the snake stick and keys to his pickup.

“Weather’s heating up; they’re starting to come out. Oh, but first we gotta get the monitor out of the truck,” he says, then adds an afterthought: “He’s a little aggressive.”

So Wolf grabs the monitor – a fat, 4-foot-long, wildly flailing lizard – and sticks him, under great protest, in a wooden box. But the pair of rattlesnakes already in the backseat? They can come along for the ride.

Wolf, a retired San Francisco Zoo manager, has devoted his life to saving reptiles, most recently through his nonprofit Sonoma County Reptile Rescue.

At no charge, he contracts with 15 Northern California counties, most in the Bay Area, to take in pythons, corn snakes, turtles and other cold-blooded critters in need of rescuing. He finds new homes for nearly all of them, although at any given time his rural Sebastopol house contains hundreds of slithering, hissing, spitting reptiles awaiting their destiny.

“I love rattlesnakes,” Wolf said as he drove along Sonoma County’s winding country roads to Bishop’s Ranch, a rural retreat near Healdsburg, on the rattlesnake call. “To me, they’re so majestic. So poised. They have so much control when they hunt, when they move.”

He sighed, listening to the chilling hum of rattles in the backseat.

“They’re a very special animal.”

Animal shelters often deliver reptiles to him or ask his assistance in rescuing stubborn, cranky or unusually large specimens. He also receives a dozen or so frantic calls a day from people who find rattlesnakes in their yards and want Wolf to make them gone.

Each week, Wolf rustles up 30 to 40 unwanted rattlesnakes and releases them on a remote, unpopulated hillside in northern Sonoma County.

That’s the destination for the very irritated rattlesnake Wolf finds at Bishop’s Ranch. A quick-witted gardener had found the snake next to a building an hour or so earlier and used a stick to herd it into a plastic garbage bin. By the time Wolf arrived, a small crowd had gathered at the bin to watch the excitement.

Wolf grabbed it with his two-pronged snake stick and got a close look. Very close. The snake lashed its forked tongue at him, spitting venom while trying to writhe free from the clamp.

“Yeah, he needs to settle down a few days,” Wolf said. “Then we’ll release him.”

Bishop’s Ranch Director Sean Swift was happy to see the rattler head down the hill in Wolf’s pickup.

“We love snakes here, but we don’t want rattlesnakes near where people go,” he said. “He’ll find a good home for it.”

Wolf has been a snakeophile since he was a kid in Fairfax. King snakes, gopher snakes, garter snakes – all found a home with him.

But then he discovered big snakes. Snakes that can kill people. Snakes that live in jungles. Snakes you order by the foot from reptile magazines.

That’s how he obtained his finest reptile, a 13-foot king cobra that arrived in the mail C.O.D. and with his parents’ blessing when he was about 10.

“That thing came out of the box and rose up as tall as me,” he said. “I fell in love instantly.”

Wolf has worked at animal rescue organizations throughout his career, retiring from the San Francisco Zoo in 2001, and devoting himself full time to reptile recovery.

Sonoma County Reptile Rescue has 11 volunteers and a board that raises about $3,000 a year, covering only 10 percent or so of the cost of feeding and transporting Wolf’s menagerie.

The rest comes out of his pocket – money he said he’s happy to spend on the animals with whom he shares his home.

As of last week, that list includes 150 snakes, 130 spiders, 500 mice and rats, 100 turtles and tortoises, four parrots, 20 quail, two buffalo, two dogs and one llama. He even had a partridge (but no pear tree).

Wolf has endured 11 rattlesnake bites, each of which has sent him to the hospital for three or four days; has been gored by Maynard, one of the buffalo; and mauled by a bobcat.

“It’s Maynard who’s going to get him someday,” said Osborne, a former Marine World trainer. “I don’t worry about the snakes.”

Maynard didn’t intend to send Wolf to the hospital with a gaping hole in his cheek a few months ago; he was just being playful, Wolf said.

Late last month, when Wolf approached the buffalo pasture, Maynard trotted across like a love-struck Labrador.

Wolf scratched Maynard’s head affectionately.

“I’ve got to watch it with this guy. He likes to pull me and push me,” Wolf said. “He’s like a cow but a little bit more aggressive.”

He tossed Maynard a few corn husks before surveying the tortoises, the pythons and the cranky monitor from his pickup.

“I love this job,” he said.

E-mail Carolyn Jones at carolynjones@sfchronicle.com.

This article appeared on page C – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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