CELEBRITY HERPER INTERVIEWS

 

ART BASS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BIO

PLACE OF BIRTH: Athens, Georgia
PRESENT RESIDENCE: Hollywood, Florida
CONTACT INFORMATION: 'Strictly Reptiles' (954) 967-8310

SPECIAL NOTE: Art claims the record in capturing the largest Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake AND the largest Eastern Cottonmouth.

Art is presently in charge of the 'venomous herps' at the warehouse facility of STRICTLY REPTILES in Hollywood, Florida. This company is the 'Fulton Fish Market' of the reptile trade, with daily arrivals of fresh stock from around the world. Wholesale buyers are always at Strictly's pouring over the animals and snatching up selected goodies. Some of the herps they buy will be sold on the domestic market and a lot of these critters will be shipped overseas. And of course Strictly ships direct to wholesalers, jobbers and pet stores all over the country. The convenience of 'one-stop-shopping' is what this company offers its worldwide customers.

 

Art showing how to stare down a big viper.

INTERVIEW

NHM: "So Art,what is your expertise here and what is expected of you at STRICTLY?"

ART: "I'm required to keep all the 'Hot Stuff' locked up with restricted access so as to not endanger anyone and to prevent escape of any poisonous herps from this facility. Venomous shipments are opened up or packed up here in my 'office / snake room'. As for 'expertise', I have over 40 years of experience in handling poisonous snakes, maybe that makes me the expert."

NHM: "Any mishaps over the years? How many times have you been bit by dangerous snakes?"

ART: "Fifteen or sixteen times (poisonous snake bites), but the worse incident was being grabbed by the arm and pulled under by a 10 foot gator when I was swimming along the shore of a pond in the Everglades looking for snakes." (Art was bit by a Wagler's on Aug 7th, this would make it #17!)
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Art shows me his deformed right arm and I also notice that he is missing half a thumb ( tells me another gator bit that off during a hand feeding session gone wrong). He appears to have various other scars from his trade too. Its been a tough life!
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NHM: "How did you manage to escape from a 10' gator?"

ART: "Seeing as how I have had wrestling experience with these animals in the past I knew to wrap myself around him, get my free hand over his eyes to calm him down and then I backed us up into the shallows were I could get another breath of air. There was a couple fisherman nearby heard me yellin and came over to were we was huggin up. I told them to grab my 30-30 out of the truck and plug him between the eyes. They was worried about hitting my arm still in his jaws but I said shoot anyways cause the arm was all messed up already!"

NHM: "Ah, that was definitely a harry experience."

ART: "It wasn't like he stalked me or somethin, we just bumped into each other in the water and he grabbed without knowing what it was. They had to put a steel plate in my arm to fix it up. But after a couple of years the screws fell out and the plate got so lose I pulled it out of arm. It was sticking out anyways and I kept shorting my arm on the battery terminals when I worked on the truck, throwing sparks all over the place. Anyways the arm had knit back good enough to do without the plate anymore."

NHM: "With the experience of all those snakebites, what was the worse?"

ART: "When I used to do the show in Ocala, Florida, where they would bury me underground for 10 days with a bunch of poisonous snakes (see news clipping) I made the mistake of brushing my hand against this big Eastern Diamondback Rattler who must have been sleeping and she nailed me, got a heavy dose. By the time they put me on the table in emergency I was really tripping out. Felt like I was floating on the table and then falling through it. Next thing it seemed like I was goin over 100 on the highway with a motorcycle and my face was like soft plastic being whipped around in the wind. I was in that hospital 7 days. Snakes have put me in the hospital six times, gators twice."

NHM: "That might have been an OBE? How is it you can be locked up with a bunch of those bad boys for days and NOT get bit, like a whole bunch of times?!"

ART: " Snakes get used to ya, know your smell, who ya are. If I work with a snake, well most snakes, and it has not been mistreated at any time it will calm right down. That big Eastern that bit me, normally I could hang her around my neck when she was wide awake and not getting spooked.

NHM: "Art, it sounds like you give reptiles credit for a lot more intelligence and feelings than most people do. With so many years of herping, you must have a keen knowledge of reptile behavior."


 

 

ART: "Awful lot of knowledge came from the many years of working in serpentariums and small zoos up and down the East Coast. Besides the milking of rattlers and King Cobras, I worked a lot with birds and mammals too."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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At this point I am looking closer at what he has lying around and moving around the 'office'. His pet Blue Tongue Skink 'Booger' is nosing for cat food and there are at least five Green Iguanas of various sizes lounging on different shelves, boxes, and light fixture booms. Art is probably more comfortable with animals then he is with people, animals being more predictable?
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Art goes over to a shelf and pulls out two dog eared scrapbooks full of news clippings and photos that document a lifetime of being one tough herper and showman. Those photos of him in his prime makes him look like Tarzan, a real Tarzan! No wonder other herpers didn't cross his path in the old days, they would have been fed to the gators!
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NHM: "Looks to me like you would have a best selling book if you wrote about your life. When did you start making money as a herper?"

ART: "When I was a kid in Georgia I sold Copperheads, Water Moccasins and rattlers to the University of Georgia. They were working on a snake repellent. Then I started selling to zoos and labs. Herping was mostly venomous stuff in those days. The other kinds of reptiles and the hobby got popular in the '70's and sales dropped on poisonous. But now there seems to be a good market for the venomous herps again."

NHM: "With all that hunting/herping experience under your belt, do you have any herping tips for the new generation of hunters?"

ART: "Yeah, stay off posted property! Nobody ever taught me anything on this stuff, so let everyone else learn on their own."

NHM: "Art, I see you are going to hold on to your secrets until the right money comes along! O.K., what poisonous snake would you recommend as a 'starter snake' for a herper interested in keeping venomous stuff?"

ART: "Pygmy Rattler. Best to start small, refine your handling skills with a hook and keep down your risk of killing yourself with the first one."

NHM: "What snake do you least like to handle? The Mamba?"

ART: " I would say the Taipan. It is fast, aggressive and very deadly."

NHM: "Like a Fer-De-Lance."

ART: "Those Fer-De-Lances are the psychos of the snake world, about as bad as the Taipan."

NHM: "What sells well these days, the most popular of the venomous snakes?"

ART: "Eastern Diamond Backs. You could sell babies for a high price all day long. Breeders can do good with these because wild production has dropped drastically with habitat destruction. King Cobras are the popular imports, but they are hard to keep alive, even with force feeding.

NHM: "Time is up for this session. Thanks for your time and words Art. If you ever decide to let the world know some of your hunting spots or herp catching secrets just give me a call."

ART: "Not likely."

 

 

 

Would you like to hear more from Art? Some stories from the 'old days' with more details? Like how the gator ate his thumb? Maybe another attempt to get some handling or collecting tips? Send in your questions and suggestions so we can have another interview with this herper, Art Bass - a true American Legend.