Snakes on Your Plane? Serpents Are Frequent Fliers Too

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(See a video of a snake-venom expert at work.)

Osborn says there have been instances—four or five times in his career—when animals have escaped inside the cargo area.

"Usually, the animals perished in the belly of the aircraft," he said.

Excellent Travelers

Snake wrangler Jules Sylvester, whose L.A.-based company Reptile Rentals supplied the snakes for the Snakes on a Plane movie, says the cold-blooded creatures actually make excellent travelers.

"They live underneath logs and down in holes, so they don't get claustrophobic when you put them in a box," Sylvester said.

(Read "'Snakes on a Plane': Behind the Scenes With the Movie's Snake Wrangler" [July 2006].)

For transporting snakes within the U.S., Sylvester recommends Delta Dash, a shipping service of Delta Airlines that lets passengers check cargo with them at the ticket counter.

According to Marvin Cummings, a Delta Dash customer service representative in Atlanta, Georgia, transporting snakes, even venomous ones, is "a regular, everyday thing" for the airline.

Snake shippers, however, have to be licensed, which involves having an official from either the airline or the U.S. Department of Homeland Security inspect the premises where the snakes are being held before shipping.

And the instructions for packing snakes are equally strict.

Snakes should go into a pillowcase or cloth bag tied with an overhand knot and then into another pillowcase that is also tied.

The animals should then be placed inside a box, which can be made of plastic foam. This whole package finally goes inside a wooden box, which has to be screwed down.

Sylvester, the Hollywood snake handler, says he doesn't see the need for quite so many precautions.

"Good gracious, you'd think there's a bloody gorilla in there," Sylvester said. "I don't think dynamite travels like that."

Creepy Crawlers

One practice that is more difficult to control is illegal snake smuggling.

"Most of the illegal smuggling of snakes [in and out of the country] takes place in the passenger arena," Osborn, the FWS official, said.

"A person may try to bring the snakes onto the plane in their carry-on luggage or even tape them to their body."

One traveler, Osborn says, was caught at the L.A. airport with 53 baby snakes concealed underneath his clothes.

"He had taken nylon stockings and cut them into sections, tying one end of the section off and putting the snake in and tying the other end," Osborn said.

"Then he tied all of these things together and made bracelets out of them, and carried them around his waist, ankles, thighs, biceps—they were even sewn into the lining of his jacket."

To be honest, Osborn said, "you never know what the person sitting next to you on the plane might be wearing or carrying."

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