SoCal Herp Community Comes Together To Aid Rescued Snakes

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SoCal Herp Community Comes Together To Aid Rescued Snakes

California herp rescue teams up with area reptile vendors to help rescued ball pythons.

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The news broke the last week in January 2014 on local TV channels in Southern California: "A Santa Ana man was arrested for having hundreds of pythons in his house. Neighbors said smell was terrible. Snakes found dead and dying. Also found were cages of rats and mice, used as food for the snakes."


Photo by Stephen M. Strichart

Jason Haywood, President of the Southern California Herpetology Association & Rescue (SCHA&R)  and Mark Huerta, vice president.


As the news was reported, footage of dead and rotting snakes were shown. Had they been kittens or puppies, these images never would have appeared on the screen. I do not intend to talk about the gentleman who was arrested or his mental state or about his having all those snakes in his home. I will let other publications debate those issues. We all saw it and have been seeing and hearing about for weeks. But there is another side to this story that you haven't seen or heard about, unless you are possibly on Facebook with someone in the herpetocultural field.

Jason Haywood, President of the Southern California Herpetology Association & Rescue (SCHA&R), was at home getting ready to go to work. His cell phone began receiving text after text after text, informing him of what was going on in Santa Ana. Jason went to the location to offer his assistance. He contacted Sondra Berg of the Santa Ana Animal Services. She asked him to stand by because she knew Animal Services was not prepared to house that many snakes.


Sgt. Mark Kozakowski of the Santa Ana Police Department approached Jason and asked for his help in identifying the snakes to make sure none were harmful. Jason went into the house wearing a hazmat suit and breathing apparatus to inspect the snakes. All the snakes turned out to be ball pythons, a smaller, African, harmless snake. Realizing the enormous task ahead, Jason put out the word to other SCHA&R members for help.

Soon, Mark Huerta, Vice President, and members Heather Hayden, Tommy Munoz, Eric Maltby, Erik Veach, married couple Matt and Kendyl Bernardin and Ken Van Doren, himself a breeder of ball pythons, were there, not to look at the owner or gawk at the snakes, but to pitch in and help. 

The SCHA& R members were welcomed with open arms as the job was bigger than the Animal Services personnel could handle. The club members put each of the snakes into plastic tubs, tagged and identified each one. A total of 184 live snakes were removed, some in very bad condition.

The club then transported all the snakes to Greek & Associates Veterinary Hospital in Yorba Linda, Calif. Dr. Tom Greek and his staff stayed on, after an already busy day, until each and every snake was examined and treated. Dr. Greek was kind enough to defer the vet bill of $11,000 to the City of Santa Ana to be addressed in court. This means all the money being donated to the care of the snakes will go to just that—the care of the snakes. Donation money has been used to buy food, cleaning agents, mite spray and any other costs incurred in the care of these snakes.


A home of one of the club member who lives in Orange County has become a temporary hospital/care center for the snakes. The house is alarmed, and there are always two people there 24/7 to watch over and care for the snakes. The snakes have been photo/ I.D.d, and their weight recorded.

The first night, seven snakes died. So far the number of snakes lost since taking the original 184 has been 26. Some were just too weak to carry on. In order to accomplish this daunting task, the club leaned on its members and the “herp” community.

Loren Leigh, owner of LLL Reptile & Supply in Oceanside, Calif., donated racks, tubes and medicine. Elric Mors, owner of World Serpents Exotic of Long Beach in Bixby Knolls, donated a bale of aspen bedding, racks, tubs and heat tapes. The owner of Reptropolis in Orange County also donated to the cause.

The latest news regarding the snakes is that the owner has signed all the snakes over to Santa Ana Animal Services. The Santa Ana Police Department has asked the SCHA&R to hold the snakes until after the court date, and then find homes for the survivors, as long as they are completely healthy.


Plans at this time are to look into the possibility of donating these snakes to an educational environment, meaning, school teachers, classrooms, nature centers and zoos.

“Adoption Projekt 184" has been set up to handle requests for adopting one of these snakes. Requests can be made at

This article originally appeared in the February 7, 2014 issue of the Signal Tribune. Reprinted with permission.


Stephen M. Strichart is an associate publisher at the Signal Tribune in Long Beach, Calif.