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New museum aims to make snakes less scary

by: Jaime Valdez Owner Tim Criswell stands in the Venomous Reptile Museum at the House of Reptiles pet store in Tigard.

Museums are often pegged as boring, but Tigard's House of Reptiles is shaking things up with a new museum devoted exclusively to some of the most dangerous animals around.

The Venomous Reptile Museum opened its doors this month inside the House of Reptiles pet store on Pacific Highway, offering visitors the chance to see something they've likely never seen before.

'You would probably have to go to the San Diego Zoo to find something like this,' said museum curator and pet store owner Tim Criswell as he made his way past cages filled with venomous creatures.

More than 20 different species of venomous critters line the walls of the museum. Some have as many as eight legs but most have no legs at all.

'They're beautiful. They have their own stories from their own part of the world,' Criswell said.

'Our goal is not to scare people'

Originally, Criswell thought about opening a second location devoted exclusively to the museum, but without a major backer to fund the project, Criswell decided to open the museum inside the store.

'I think people will find it interesting,' he said, 'and I think we (at the store) would find it an outlet for our interest in providing information about these animals.'

The museum features a host of slithering and crawling animals, including a Gila monster, a deathstalker scorpion, Oregon's own Northern Pacific rattlesnake, a 9-foot-long black mamba and a 14-foot-long king cobra.

Criswell said that the creatures in the museum may be deadly, but they shouldn't be feared.

'Our goal is not to scare people,' he said. 'That's not our goal, our goal is to educate people.'

In fact, Criswell said, venomous animals do their part in saving lives, too.

'Gila monster venom is used in the treatment of diabetes,' Criswell said. 'There are a lot of things like that. People don't know (what) these animals have done for them.'

Once people understand the benefits that venomous creatures can bring to humanity, he said, people's attitudes toward cold-blooded animals might begin to change.

'If you can't get to a more altruistic appreciation of them, than maybe people can get to a more narcissistic appreciation. What do these animals do for me? And the answer is unknown,' Criswell said. 'There is a lot that we do know about what they can do for us, but it's really untapped.'

With a little education, people can understand how important these animals are, Criswell said.

Elvis is safe

For the past eight years people have turned to the House of Reptiles when they need to find a home for a venomous creature that customers couldn't take care of anymore.

Since then, the store has collected quite the collection of dangerous animals, including rattlesnakes, alligators and boa constrictors.

Local police also turn to the store to take care of snakes, lizards and other cold-blooded animals found during drug busts.

When an animal couldn't be displayed in the store, Criswell cared for it at home.

'My wife was interested in maybe having fewer venomous reptiles as soon as possible,' Criswell said, laughing. 'She was a big fan of us starting the museum.'

Elvis, a Northern Pacific rattlesnake, was brought to the store eight years ago by bird hunters, who used the venomous viper to train hunting dogs.

Today, Elvis slithers through his enclosure at the museum, safe from people who would do him harm.

'They are a part of the natural world, and they have a place in the natural world,' Criswell said. 'Without our predators keeping some of the prey populations in check, we run into real problems. There are still rattlesnake roundups in this country that are just really barbaric. People still have a ways to go yet in giving these creatures their due.'

House of Reptiles is located at 11507 S.W. Pacific Highway, in Tigard.



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