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- Oct 28, 2017
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By Steve Evans
19 January 2019
"Love!" That's the word he uses. "Love!"
Time and again, Ric Longmore says he loves snakes - even though he's lucky to be alive after being bitten by one of the deadliest variants, a tiger snake.
It happened on the night of January 14, 1969.
At the time, he was a student of botany at the Australian National University and he decided to go to Coppins Crossing on the Molonglo River to look for frogs, both because he was interested in frogs but also because they made good food for his primary interest - snakes.
Suddenly, a tiger snake appeared. Ric caught it and bagged it and felt so proud of the catch that he took it to a friend's house to show it off.
But the snake was not proud to have been caught and turned on the catcher, injecting a potentially fatal dose of venom into his left thumb.
"I was being lazy," he said. "The snake was smarter than me."
He realised that he was in mortal peril and called the ambulance, which took him to Canberra Hospital where the anti-venom was waiting. The police told him later his breathing was already starting to be impaired.
The next day, thanks to the anti-venom, he was back from the brink of death. "He nearly killed me," Mr Longmore says 50 years later, almost to the day.
All the same, he loves snakes to this day. Did being on the wrong end of one of Australia's most venomous snakes not put him off? "Not at all. The love is there."
The moral? "It's not a good idea to collect venomous snakes by yourself."
Some would say it's not a good idea to collect venomous snakes at all but Ric does not agree. There are regulations to protect endangered species and they have to be obeyed, but the Snake Man continues to acquire.
He only has two at the moment. One is a death adder. "It's downstairs in a cage," he said (death adders cause paralysis of humans, leading to death after about six hours).
His other snake companion is less threatening. It's a desert python called Precious that he bought after it was bred in captivity. It was born, he knows, on December 6, 2006 and it accompanies him non-venomously, twisting on his arms and neck and drawing fascinated followers, particularly kids.
Ric accepted that his snake companions were not as affectionate as dogs and cats. "They aren't terribly exciting animals to keep as pets," he said. "You don't get too much affection, but they are fascinating.
"It's been my main love for all these years."
Despite their inscrutable, unresponsive, ungrateful demeanour, he thinks his two companions do know when he is coming to feed them.
"They're pretty to watch and we love them, some of them are very beautiful to look at," he said.
"Some, like my death adder, are very deadly and not terribly attractive but I still love him because he's a snake that I respect. If I was to get bitten it would be my fault."
"They aren't terribly exciting animals to keep as pets. You don't get too much affection, but they are fascinating."
The Snake Man, as he calls to himself, is still as enthusiastic at the age of 71 as he was at the age of 12 when he caught his first snake.
Even before then, he was hooked. "When I was eight or nine, my parents could see I was fascinated." He started reading books about snakes as soon as he could read as a pre-teen boy in Canberra.
His boyish fascination took him into more than a half century as a snake catcher in the ACT. He was the man to call if one appeared.
And they are appearing more and more as, in Ric's opinion, we encroach on their territory. The spread of suburban Canberra means a human spread into snake habitat. "People are going to come face to face with snakes as suburbs expand."
His advice is to keep calm. Of red bellied black snakes, for example, "they can hardly wait to get out of the way".
Whatever you do, don't try to kill a snake. "One of our principle aims is to convince people the only good snake is a live snake. They play their role in vermin control, they have a position in the ecosystem," Ric said.
"Snakes are protected in Australia; it's illegal to kill a snake unless there's some imperative reason to. We tell people to call a snake expert or if you see them in the bush, walk away."
He thinks the fear of snakes is overdone. He is adamant that the phobia is learnt and not innate. Young children, he says, have to be taught not to pick them up.
In recent years, the rate of snake bite in the Australian capital is about one or fewer a month - not a great number, in his opinion. "Canberra people have learnt to live with snakes," he said.
"It is the bush capital after all."