Insider's View: Cal Academy Opening Day

Ball Python (Python regius)The majority of staff were "all hands on deck" this past Saturday and Sunday at the California Academy of Sciences. Yet, we were vastly outnumbered. Fifteen thousand people perused the new building while thousands more enjoyed the festivities in the park.

Two of us, with animal handling experience, were rotating handling of a a four foot Ball Python and a six and half foot Red tailed Boa Constrictor to give guests a chance to get up close and personal with nature.

However, not everyone loves snakes. I had stickers in my pocket for those kids who were too shy or scared to come and see the snake I had in my hands. But the majority of kids would approach unabashed and when I was on the floor with the Ball Python, I was often surrounded by "shorter" guests. As I was going through the Piazza, I was approached by a woman, her daughter, and with trepidation her husband. They were visiting from England and the woman and her daughter were enjoying petting the snake and were asking questions about it. The woman asked her husband to join in and I looked up to see the fear palatable on his face.

My mom, who was bitten as a child has a large fear of snakes, so I could read the fear easily on the man's face. I asked him about it and he said one of the reasons he loved England was its lack of snakes. Talking to him, I explained my mom's fear and why the snake I was holding was a great snake for him to pet if he would like to. At full growth, the Ball Python only reaches four feet. The Ball Python gets its name for hiding it head into the ball of its body when threatened, so a chance of being bitten by a Ball Python that is used to being handled is slight. This particular snake, was incredibly docile and had been handled for over ten years. He approached visibly shaking to pet the snake's body. Tears were rolling down his face, it was apparent that he was facing a life long fear. His daughter and wife were beaming at the exchange. It felt wonderful allowing someone to face a fear in such a safe and positive way.

Stories of moments have been shared amongst staff since opening weekend. All of these stories relate small moments exchanged between staff and guests. Some are funny, some touching. This is just my own story. The majority of Academy staff volunteered to work a ten- to fifteen-hour day each day in order to be part of the opening weekend. Staff coped with long days, tired feet, and answers repeated over a hundred times with a smile. They continue to replay opening with stories like this with each other. It is great to be open and I am looking forward to many more stories and shared moments.


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