Gus is a born and raised true Floridian. The Everglades was introduced to Gus at an early age for fishing and hunting with his father was something they did often. Growing up he enjoyed watching old western movies, and Tarzan episodes.
Gus remembered in his child hood years how he always had nightmares of being chased by monsters, but the most common disturbing dreams were with Alligators and Snakes. Gus always had a fascination with dangerous animals. How ironic that the same very animals that has haunted him as a child are the same animals “today” he has grown to love, and have a passion for.
Gus always visualized himself of being attacked by a fearsome predator, and what methods he would use to get out of dangers way, just like the Tarzan films. On television, Tarzan was fearless, he had knowledge of the surroundings he ventured in, and he also knew how to communicate with the animals.
How amazing to have that ability! As a kid everything seen on television was believable, but in reality, to most there’s no such truth of a man safely “swimming” crossing a swamp with out being attacked by an Alligator or Crocodile. Or maybe the thought of handling deadly snakes bare handed with no harm to the handler is just a myth. “Or is it?
Today as crazy as it sounds Gus has challenged the boundaries of what he had learned and read in books, seen in movies, and listen to in folk stories and tall tales of these so called evil creatures. Gus has ventured deep into his child hood imagination and unlocked many mysteries of once thought to be impossible, now it's a reality.
His experience and interactions of close quarter encounters with Alligators and Snakes, shows a well natured and cunning side to these creatures, as a new start to a passage of knowledge, understanding and respect as Gus entered into the realm of the unknown.
A serpent to Gus was a creature most feared and hated. In his younger years before ever working with snakes, Gus sadly admits that he had killed snakes before for no reason. His ignorance was a reflection of not only his lack of knowledge but also fear. A fear that lurks deep in his child hood past. Gus never imagined that his passion was going to involve around snakes.
Wild Pygmy Rattle Snake
Water Moccasin/Cotton Mouth
It started way down south where Gus got a job working as an Alligator Wrestler at the Everglades Alligator farm. His job description was catching Alligators for the harvest, air boat tours, cleaning, feeding, Wildlife, Alligator Wrestling, and yes, Snake shows. Gus read and learned facts on different species of snakes and did his shows well, he even had a few snakes in his house as pets. He was becoming comfortable with the snakes he worked with, but still had an uneasy nerve when it came to venomous snakes.
Tall tales heard as a child about Water Moccasins strategically falling out of trees and landing in boats, and how aggressively quick they are to bite. “The same story for all snakes”. In Gus’s snake shows, he would terrify the audience with the same ideology of what he imagined these snakes would be like. But even some of the snake books cover the same views. The shows got so intense when it came to venomous snakes that tourists would refuse to ride the air boats after watching the show.
After a few years working with snakes, Gus was filmed by a friend as he performed his snake show. Watching the video tape Gus had realized how foolishly he was misinforming people and adding more reasons for them to fear snakes. Gus knew if he was going to educate others and make a difference, he had to start with himself first and challenge his own beliefs and fears for it seemed that was what the audiences expected and wanted to hear. Playing the fear card made it fun and exciting to watch the uneasy look on the tourist faces during and after the show. But deep down inside Gus was figuring out that his lecturing contradicted the truth about snakes in general.
Gus used to go after work at Bob Freer's place known as the Everglades Outpost to help out with the animals and to learn more about venomous snake by contributing personal time in cleaning and feeding snakes. His friend Albert Killian from the outpost taught Gus a lot about interactions and handling snakes. Gus practiced methods of tailing; with a hook. Albert is a superb Cobra handler and always made it look easy as it brought back memories of child hood years when the family often visited “The Miami Serpenterium” to watch Dr Bill Haast do his venomous shows.
Gus met up with good friend Jonathan “Cattail”. At the time Jonathan worked in Billie Swamp Safari doing the Alligator and Snake shows. Jonathan was in the Alligator pit getting ready to do a show. Gus watched with great pride for he was the one that trained Jonathan to work with the Alligators. Once the show was done Jonathan had to do a Snake show as well.
During Jonathans Snake show, Gus witnessed something that didn’t seem real. He watched his friend handle a Copper Head with his bare hands. Gus didn’t know what to think of it, for according to books and even experts says, the Copper Head is a nasty and dangerous snake to deal with. But yet this snake sat calmly in his hands. Then he put the snake back in the box and pulled out an Eastern Diamond Back Rattle Snake with no snake hook. Everyone was amazed including Gus.
Gus believed that maybe the snakes were “venomoids”, meaning that the snake’s venom glands were removed and there for the snake can’t produce any venom. Some handlers use venomoids for safer shows and exhibiting. “Not good for the snake”. But Jonathan assured that the snakes he handled in the show were fully meaning venomous. Jonathan's handling skills were very impressive. On the way back home Gus kept reminiscing on how and why the snakes didn’t strike when handled in that manner. Maybe there’s more to it than just text book knowledge.
Gus continued practicing handling venomous snakes, He never forgot the day he free handled his first Water Moccasin. It started with a hook, and then observing the snakes’ behavior. Slowly Gus’s hands slid underneath
the snakes belly and shortly the snake’s body was suspended by both hands. Gus said it is hard to express the feeling when you free handle your first venomous snake. It’s almost like an infant that doesn’t know the fear or the danger. It was the same for Gus; his attempt was with out thinking about the risk. Almost like going into a trance. But after Gus realized what he had accomplished; he knew it was just the beginning.
Gus says that dealing with a venomous snake is no different than a non-venomous. "Both can bite!" Gus learned that there are two reasons why any snake will bite. First, if it thinks your food. Well, we don't have to worry too much of our native snakes seeing us as a food source. Second, If a snake feels threatened, it will defend it self. Just common sense. Any animal would act in this manner if feared or threatened, including us.
But what happens when you alter their instinctive behavior using handling techniques that feels natural and comfortable to a snake. Once the snake feels comfortable and not threaten, there’s no reason for a snake to strike. Gus gathered many theories, methods and techniques "which most he will not share to prevent others from trying" a lot requires on a focused mind, non-aggressive movements, calm and gentle hands, but the hardest part is the acceptance of an outcome gone badly, when the slightest of mistakes can be fatal. This is where the importance of observation, passion and faith had helped Gus to follow through to seek out of the ordinary to have a better understanding and perspective on the animals he once feared.
Most people that had never been around snakes would see this as insanely crazy. The snake experts will say that this is not the correct way of handling venomous. When Gus was introduced to the Internet he uploaded a fun and silly video of himself free handling venomous snakes. A Website called “Venomous Reptiles.org” had copied the video and posted it on their site for members feed back on "Speak Out: Freehandlers: Do they have a moral obligation or not?"
The response from the members were mostly all negative. So the snake enthusiasts stated many comments; like; the snakes are stressed or injured and there for it can’t bite. Some said that the snakes were put on ice to make them sluggish; some challenged Gus, saying that he wouldn’t dare to pick up a Rattle Snake on a warm day or that they had snakes of their own that would light him up if he tried to free handle them, and to Gus's suprise some even wished him harm. “Welcome to the Internet!”
Gus was very pleased to see how many friends and fans defended him on the sites topic. Out of all the negative comments from other venomous snake handlers, none could figure out how Gus was able to successfully handling these snakes with out being bitten, especially the Pygmy Rattle snake. So their only logical thoughts was to believe that the health and condition of these snakes were poor and must have been too weak to defend it self. "You got to be kidding me" but some of the members of the site thought it was a concern that younger kids might mimic what they have seen. Gus sees it this way; with all the sex and violence on video games, television, movies, and the internet, one video of a person free handling snakes on youtube is not a crime at all, but most made it seem that way with their outraged comments. If parents are concern as to what their children’s might be exposed to, maybe the parents should be better supervising their kids’ activities and monitoring the type of music, video games, sites on the internet, and their interaction with friends. No one should be responsible for the behaviors of others. "Everyone is a critic." Gus sat back with a smile and watch the hit counter go up for that was the most hits that site had ever received on the "Speak Out" section.
Gus’s preference of handling style is no bodies concern but his own since it would be him that will receive the bite if the snake decides to strike. He believes that free handling is much safer and comfortable for the snake, "not for the handler." Many times before Gus had witnessed handlers make the mistake of accidently harming the snake with hooks because of fear of getting bit. But despite of levels of experiences, or the amount of risks anyone is willing to take, we all have a choice and a responsibility to educate others on these animals. Gus did not take to heart what was commented in the venomous site, if anything the site is very informative and well displayed. A must to check out if you have a passion or curiosity for venomous reptiles.
WARNING: What you are about to read are true life occurrences. This is NOT an educational or training manual on the subject. We advise never to try these stunts due to the high risk and danger involved.
Gus has given his share of time to educate people about venomous snakes. His goal is to demonstrate a softer, less fearsome side to these so called “evil monsters.” To emphasize more on their majestic beauty and the importance of their existence. Every one knows that Water Moccasins and Rattle Snakes are dangerous, "thats all" but how unexpected is it to hear positive stories about a creature we have known to hate, and to witness these deadly serpents allowed to be held with no restrictions or threat, as the handler displays an act of knowledge, respect, and passion for God’s creations. If Gus can change a persons thoughts about snakes in a positive way, it’s worth every risks and sacrifices made, for his responsibility has been accomplished. His views and interactions with serpents catches the eyes and opens the minds to those that witness the show.
Special thanks to Dr Bill Haast.
Albert Killian and Bob Freer from the Everglades Outpost.
Good friend Jonathan “Cattail” Vazquez,
for all being an influence.
And also thanks to friends and family for all the support.
Attitude, rather than disposition is more definitive of serpent behavior. From the moment they emerge into this world until they complete their life cycle, their attitude is "Don't tread on me. I am well equipped to defend myself, but content to pass through life unnoticed. I mean no harm to anything or anyone that our creator has not provided as my bill of fare; I am self sustaining and I like it that way, please pass me by." - W.E. Haast
1998: Gus hepling Albert with a King Cobra
Jonathan "Cattail" with a large Eastern Diamond Back Rattle Snake.
Jonathan "Cattail" at Billie Swamp Safari.
2001: Gus free handling a Water moccasin.
Gus attempting to catch a wild Rattle Snake.
Face to face with Florida's top venomous snake.
Wild Eastern Diamond Back.
2006: Wild Rattle Snake capture.
Snake show at the Everglades Alligator farm.
Wild Pygmy Rattle snake.
Swimming with Wild Alligators.
Nancy Gus Dr. Bill Haast
Dr. Haast milking an Eastern
Jonathan Dr. Haast Gus
2008: Albino Monocle Cobra.
Click to see more of;
Today Gus doesn’t free handle as much but will use this method ONLY when needed, other than that no reason to free handle venomous snakes for Gus is very aware that he has been lucky. He still does educational shows for kids, teaching them not to fear, but to respect snakes. 12 years of free handling to reconnect with child hood imagination altaring a better relationship and understanding. Gus has developed an admiration for these creatures of myths and wonders. He is very thankful for the wisdom that God has given to him in this journey. Answers and awareness came with faith and trust in guidance and protection from the all mighty Creator. "Amen”