Once upon a time a teenager broke into National Zoo in Washington, D.C. and stole two venomous snakes because he was creating his own zoo in the vacant apartment of his public housing complex. He’d already amassed a sizeable collection of birds, bats, fish, and mice. The species of the snake he stole is called the Gaboon viper – it has the longest fangs and the highest venom yield of any snake.
After stealing the snakes, he stuffed them both in a plastic garbage bag, slung the bag over his shoulder, and took a bus back home. When he was getting off the bus, blood started coming out of his nose and mouth. There were two holes in the plastic bag. He had been bitten. He told the bus driver, “Please, don’t let me die.”
Police and paramedics were called, the teen was rushed to a hospital and it took an international effort to save his life. Local doctors got in touch with snake bite experts all the way in Africa, home of the Gaboon viper, for advice on how to save him. The National Guard flew in antivenin (a serum that counteracts the effects of venom) from three different locations (Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York) because no one location had a large enough quantity of the cure. Luckily, doctors saved his life.
The teen grew up to work in various fast-food outlets and ended up going to jail for two years for selling drugs – the only reason he was slinging dope was to put food on the table for his wife and children. Not a very successful life story is it? But it could’ve been. It really could’ve. When he jumped over the fence to break into National Zoo, when he used a rock to smash the glass front door to get into the reptile section of the zoo, he did these things because he was passionate about snakes.
When he was inside the zoo, it was dark and he was afraid of bumping into a lion – he thought lions were let out of their cages at night. But he faced his fear because of his passion for animals.
He was only able to stuff the Gaboon vipers into the plastic garbage bag because he learnt some snake-handling techniques from watching National Geographic. Clearly he didn’t learn enough, otherwise he’d know better than to steal two deadly snakes. He also thought about taking some baby alligators but decided against it when he spotted the mother hiding in a bush.
He could’ve become a zoologist. He could’ve worked in Africa with animals. He could’ve gone into so many other professions that involve animals. But it wasn’t meant to be. Instead he goes to bed every night hoping he won’t get a seizure in the middle of his sleep. He suspects the seizures are the result of the snake bite all those years ago, but without medical insurance, he can’t afford to find out the exact cause.
And this quote from him really made me feel sad for him:
“Whenever I see one of those television shows with the guys playing with snakes and alligators, I say, ‘That’s it! That’s the job I’ve always wanted!’”
Hopefully this guy won’t be a dream chaser forever. When I first read about him, I didn’t know why he’d broken into a zoo. I just knew that he stole two snakes and was poisoned and I thought he was such an idiot. Then I did more research and found out why he stole the Gaboon vipers – because of his passion for animals. A passion that would not materialize into anything concrete. Perhaps if he had had the right guidance and better opportunities, he would’ve had a different life story.