Cottonport 'Snake Lady' loves her big snakes

"All Creatures Great & Small"

 

{Editor’s Note: “All Creatures Great & Small” is a series of articles, published periodically, about the animals of Avoyelles and the people involved with those animals. This article looks at large snakes and a lady that calls them her pets.}
 
By Raymond L. Daye
 
For Lee Alpha, the four large boa constrictors in her Avoyelles Parish house are no different than the five large English mastiff dogs in her house. They are no less a companion than her talking macaw, Tango. They are dearly loved members of the family and a special part of her home in Cottonport.
 
“Each one has a personality of their own,’ Lee said of her silent, slithering, serpentine pets. 
 
Her pride and joy is Lilith, who was measured at 15 feet when she joined the Alpha family two years ago and is believed to be at or beyond 16 feet now. She weighed 85 pounds the last time they put her on a scale.
 
“The Alexandria Zoo would not take her because of her size,” Lee said with a smile. “I wouldn’t mind if she were 20 feet. In fact, the bigger the better.”
 
Online experts say the red-tailed boa won’t reach 18 feet -- and that’s the females.  The males are considerably smaller, usually topping out at 10-12 feet.
 
“Lil” is near the top of her species’ expected length. 
 
“Snakes never stop growing,” Lee said. “She may not get any longer, but she will get heavier.”
 
Lilith is currently waiting for a male red-tailed to join her. That will bring the snake population up to five -- four Peruvian red-tailed and one Colombian red-tailed. Lilith has had only one “litter” of snakelings. Only 20 of her 80 young survived, which Lee said is about normal for snake births.
 
Three rats, twice a month
Lee said she feeds the snakes every two weeks in the summer and less frequently in the winter. They eat three home-raised lab rats at each feeding.
 
Yes, Lee has a “rat ranch” at her home where she has about 150 rats -- from food-sized adults to snacks-in-waiting babies.
 
“It is important not to feed the snakes in their cages,” Lee said. “If you do, whenever you open the cage door they will think it is time to eat and will hit anything that moves.”
 
The snakes must be taken from their glass cages and put in a “feeding bin.” They are then fed -- very carefully -- in that location and then must remain there for a few hours “to get over their feeding frenzy.”
 
Lee bears a scar on one hand from an encounter with another of her pets, Jezebel -- a 14-foot Colombian red-tail.
 
“It wasn’t her fault,” Lee said.
 
The “attack” was a reflex reaction by the snake, and she seemed to be sorry afterward.
 
'You bit me!’
“She looked me in the eyes, like she was saying, ‘What’s the matter? Why are you yelling like that,’ Lee recalled. "I told her, ‘You bit me!’”
 
Lilith is about six years old, so she still has a long time to be part of the family. The snakes can live up to 40 years.
 
“Lilith acts like a dog,” she said. “When she wants attention, she taps her head on the glass. When she really wants attention, she slams her head against the glass.”
 
Jezebel and her 12-foot Peruvian cage mate Medusa often move in synchronization, “which is really awesome to watch,” Lee said.
 
Envision those cartoons of snake charmers with the dancing cobras to get an idea of what she is talking about.
 
The only male in the bunch is Zeus, an 8-foot Peruvian.
 
Lee said the main difference between the Peruvian and the Colombian versions of the snake is their skin.
 
“The Peruvian is a high-dollar snake,” she said. “You can feel the difference between the two.”
 
She was correct. Medusa felt like velvet while Jezebel was hard and felt like a pair of snakeskin boots.
 
Lee said the snakes are also performers, being used in daughter Alexis’ belly-dance students’ recitals. Medusa is the ham of the bunch.
 
“She gets very excited when we have a show,” Lee said. “She will get on the stage and stand straight up because she knows she has an audience.”
 
The annual recital will be May 9 in the Cottonport Community Center.
 
Intrigued by snakes
“Everybody is intrigued by the big snakes,” Lee said. “They really are just gentle giants.”
 
Lee said she always gives the audience a warning that the large snakes will be brought on stage, “because some people may be very afraid of snakes and I don’t want anyone freaking out.”
 
She said she has never had anyone walk out before the snakes come on stage. She said she allows people to photograph the snakes from the edge of the stage, but will not let them get close to the snakes or touch them.
 
Lee has various licenses to own and raise the snakes. Her license would enable her to have venomous snakes as well, “but I don’t fool with poisonous snakes.”
 
Besides running a “mini-zoo” in her house, Lee also teaches fitness classes. She  portrayed Linda Ronstadt in the recent “Decades” show at the Fox Theatre.
 
“My stage name is ‘Tiger,’” Lee said, “but everybody calls me ‘the Snake Lady.’ “I have always liked to live life on the edge,” she continued. “I guess that’s why I like the big snakes and the English mastiffs.”
 
Can be dangerous
She said the constrictors can be dangerous, and people need to know how to safely handle them.
 
A dangerous practice is young people wearing ball pythons as necklaces. 
 
“A 12-inch ball python can kill you,” Lee said. “If they wrap themselves around your neck, they will kill you. A large boa, if they wrap around your body, will crush you.
 
“We have a house rule,” she continued. “There must be at least three or four people in the room whenever we move a snake. It’s not that we don’t trust the snakes or are afraid of the snakes. It’s just common sense safety.”
 
That said, however, she says she is an avid advocate of snakes and speaks to schools and other groups trying to dispel the myths and overcome the bad reputation that snakes have received.
 
“People say, ‘The snake is demonic,’” she said. “If it’s demonic, then why is it a symbol of healing? I have always told people that a fed snake is a happy snake, and a happy snake is not dangerous,” Lee said. “If they are not fed, then, yes, they will do what nature says they must do -- they will try to find something to eat.”
 
The bottom line is that owning a big snake may be “cool,” but they are not a pet for everyone and require special treatment and knowledge of how to keep the snake healthy and those around it safe.
 
If a person is not willing to go that extra distance to be a responsible snake owner, then another pet would be a better choice.
 
Lee says rats also make good pets.

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