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  1. Opinion

Ruth: Snake bitten at Busch Gardens

Published May 27, 2016

If you are of a certain age, when Busch Gardens announced it intends to include an exhibit of deadly, venomous, lethal, ill-tempered snakes as part of its new Cobra's Curse thrill ride, the first thought that occurred was the live turkey drop scene from the WKRP in Cincinnati.

In a flawed Thanksgiving promotional event by the hapless radio station, hundreds of live turkeys are tossed from a helicopter hovering over a crowded shopping mall. Turkeys cannot fly. Chaos ensues. Great hilarity, too.

So now Busch Gardens has concluded housing hissing, poisonous snakes that are extremely sensitive to vibrations and loud noises next to a cacophonous amusement park ride with thousands of screaming people is a really good idea.

What could possibly go wrong?

Preparing for the debut of the aptly named Cobra's Curse, Busch Gardens animal care specialists have been working to acclimate the snakes to their new environment by subjecting them to all manner of ambient theme park type noises.

Still, the snake exhibit has been criticized by animal rights groups as a cruel exploitation of a species unable to convey when it is under stress — until a snake bites someone and they turn blue in about 30 seconds, which would demonstrate a modicum of irritability.

The timing for the Busch Gardens Rikki-Tikki-Tavi moment couldn't be more problematic.

Busch Gardens is owned by Sea World, which has been under assault since the release of Blackfish, a critical documentary about the park's alleged abuse of Orca whales that includes an incident where an employee was killed by one of the giant animals.

And just weeks ago, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus retired its elephants under pressure from animal rights groups.

Against that backdrop, Busch Gardens intends to take a host of deadly snakes out of their natural environment to use them as props to enhance the customer experience of riding a glorified roller-coaster?

It seems we have a marketing problem. Orcas are beautiful creatures and intelligent, too. The ability to learn to perform before large groups of people imbued a sort of misplaced anthropomorphic relationship with their audience.

Much the same is true with elephants, massive, fascinating beasts from the wild — who could also dance. What fun.

But a snake is a snake is a snake. You can't teach them to entertain. They are just there to be ogled by Busch Gardens patrons who paid $89 for the privilege to wait in line to lose their lunch on a twisting, turning machine going 60 mph. Say, that's entertainment!

You may be able to lead a Gaboon viper to Cobra's Curse, but you can't make the slithering creature happy about a life that feels like living beneath the Chicago "L"-squared, accompanied by wails of fearful screams.

Would Busch Gardens house an exhibit of golden retrievers underneath a rattling, crackling, booming thrill ride — Bowser's Curse, perhaps? How soon would it take before the public began howls of protest?

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If you are into critters that can kill you in a heartbeat, or venomous snakes in particular, there ought to be an appropriate place within Busch Gardens to look at them in an environment resembling their natural habitat.

Then again Cobra's Curse may be a big hit, leading Busch Gardens to develop an even bigger attraction it could call Snakes on a Plane. Talk about thrills.