The rotation for Shark Reef is different from Disney. Every day we got a little sheet of paper in our inbox that told us where we'd be, what exhibits we'd be explaining and what our dive times were if we had one. No two days were ever the same as I'd do school groups in the morning, hang out at touch pool for an hour, and so forth for the eight hours of my day. The one thing that I enjoyed about it most is that it was always different, never the same day twice.
Well, one evening working late, I walked up to take my position at the Green Tree Python exhibit. (Which was right next to Stan-the-exhibitionist-turtle exhibit). Here's the deal, the Green Tree Python, once it curls up, rarely moves. It does that because it's relying on camouflage to allow little birds and insects to come near, the minute they do, they spring, grab the food and curl back up to eat it.
What you don't know is that the exhibit with the snakes in it didn't have any glass in front of it, which meant a naturalist like myself had to be stationed there, making sure the snake didn't decide to go on walkabout. It's ok, I know what you're thinking and a lot of the naturalists said it too, "Oh, that's brilliant, an open-air snake exhibit." It was a Darwin Award waiting to happen and we didn't have to wait long.
Usually, the snakes just sat there in the tree. People walked up, we pointed them out, people went ooh and ahh, then they went on their merry way. Most of the time when people looked at the snakes, since it was an open-air exhibit, they didn't believe they were real. The snakes didn't move, they have no eyelids so they don't blink, they just sit there, literally a bump on a log, or tree branch in this case. Most of the time it was a dull hour of snake-sitting.
But that night, I walked up to the exhibit to find my friend Daryl and our supervisor Eric standing in front of the exhibit, one with the snake stick in his hand, the other with a set of feeding tongs. We kept the tools nearby just in case one of the snakes decided it was going to come down out of the tree. We had explicit instructions, if a snake came down, put it back into the tree. If there were big issues, call an aquarist.
So there's Daryl and Eric and they're standing in front of the exhibit looking like they're struggling a bit. I walk up and as was proceedure, began to count the snakes in the tree...one, ok, there's two, three, four, five...ok, where's six? Six was down in the water taking a dip. Daryl held out the hooked snake stick, scooping the animal up, placing the snake back up on the branch with Eric taking the bottom half of the snake in the crook of the feeding tongs helping to put it back into the tree. The minute Daryl and Eric thought they had it all taken care of, the snake would come back down and start swimming around again. Come to find out, they had been struggling for a solid hour trying to get that blasted snake put back into the tree.
I stood in befuddled amusement, watching Daryl and Eric struggle as the snake went up, the snake came down. The snake went up, the snake came down. The snake went up, the snake went down, and minutes went by as they're trying their hardest to get that dang snake back up into the tree, all the while every time they get the snake back in the tree, we all holler, "Stay!" At that point, my ex-husband walks up. Back then, he was our supervisor. He stands back and watches as the snake gets put up in the tree one more time and the snake going, "Nuh, uh" and politely going back into the water. My ex walks up, doesn't say a word, holds his hands out for both Daryl's and Eric's tools, then steps up on the side of the exhibit, uses the snake stick and the tongs, picks up the snake, and puts it back into the tree. With just a stern glance from my ex, the snake stayed.
Eric, Daryl and myself all exchanged bewildered glances. Daryl looked at my ex and said,"How in hell did you do that?" My ex just replies, "I've got the touch..." I should have known right then and there that he was communicating with his own kind. To this day we have no clue how he got that snake to stay in the tree.
But, what we didn't know is that later that night, a whole new story would unfold.
Every night when the aquarium closed, the last naturalist at that position would count the snakes one more time, making sure they were all there, then pull down the garage-like rolling door to lock down the snakes for the night, then an aquarist would come down and lock it. The next day, as the aquarists began opening the exhibits, what they found put them in a panic, the Green Tree Python exhibit was missing a certain individual.
That day when I walked in, I found a memo in my inbox that read, "To All Naturalists: There is a Green Tree Python missing from A14. Currently there are only five in the exhibit. If you spot the animal, immediately call an aquarist. Do not relay that there is a snake missing to guests."
Ok, if that doesn't tell you they were panicking going, "Oh shit, we're missing a snake, if you spot it, holler at us, just don't tell anyone it's missing," I don't know what will. I will tell you that on that day walking up to that exhibit, I looked closely at every leaf, branch and cubby hole that the blasted snake could be hiding in. As I passed under one of the bamboo awnings near the exhibit, I warily looked up every single time looking for that snake, thinking "Please, please, don't land on me."
The aquarium went on high alert and a full search went on for that snake. Every aquarist, naturalist, supervisor and ticket agent searched for Six. Every time a naturalist stood in front of that exhibit, it was, "One, two, three, four, five, oh shit they haven't found Six yet." This went on for weeks, pointing and counting going "One... two... three... four... five... nope."
After a while, a few of the naturalists started to speculate. Some thought it found a way out through the back wall, others thought it was hiding in the jungle area of the facility, others thought it was just hanging out and laughing at everyone. I personally thought it was out next to I-15 trying to hitch a ride to California. Wherever it was, we all agreed, the camouflage was working.
A few months later, they found Six. You'll never believe where he was... Remember the rolling garage door that got pulled down every night over the exhibit? Six found his way into the case that surrounded the door to make it look pretty. He was wrapped around the inside. He only came out because he was hungry.
You know that old expression, "If it was a snake it would have bit me?" Well, there ya go. It was in the exhibit the whole time.
I've got more stories in my arsenal from my days at the 'Reef', but like an old friend says, "That's a story for another day."