Marty Kupersmith, snake whisperer

You’re known as a snake whisperer? How did you earn that name?

M: People say I’m a herpetologist, but you have to go to college to really be one. I’m a herpetophile. When I was a kid I used to catch garter snakes, salamanders, frogs, turtles.... Then I graduated to catching bigger reptiles. I’d go to the Solomon Islands in Australia. I got into smuggling. Smuggling isn’t right, but it was a thrill. It was a long time ago.I brought a few in from Australia. It’s about getting and sweating through customs.

What do people pay for a reptile on the black market?

Actually, I’m a jerk. I just gave most of my stuff away. I had monitor lizards, a crocodile, diamond pythons and I wound up giving them away.

Is it dangerous to carry these animals around?

No. You put them in socks in the luggage. I met a man named in Australia who took a fancy to my wife. He showed us the back of the zoo and asked if I was smuggling. Then he pulled out a few baby diamond pythons and asked if I wanted some. Of course I did.

You’ve since become known for saving reptiles.

Since I’ve been up here, I’ve been doing rattlesnake rescue. The timber rattlesnake is the only kind that’s up here. It’s a protected species. I’m listed with several police departments in neighboring counties. I get calls to save people from the rattlesnakes but more often, I’m saving the rattlesnake from the people. They are den specific animals, they need to be close to their dens or they won’t make it.

How do you find their dens?

We hike. We hear from people that there are a lot of snakes in one area and we find the dens. I don’t say where these dens are because there are people who would like to kill them or collect them and I don’t do that. If I get a call that there is a rattlesnake on the property, I’ll show up and take the snake, carefully. I mark it with magic marker on the rattle. Then I measure it, sex it, and release it about a half a mile back up the mountain from whence it came. Usually they don’t show up in the same place again but if they do I know from the mark that it’s a recapture. This year I’ve only gotten a few rattlesnake calls. Most of the calls are for black rat snakes. They’re big, but they’re like puppies.

What do you do for work right now?

I’m a full time musician. I still go on the road with Jay and the Americans. I write. Do you know the song Bad Reputation by Joan Jett? I wrote that with Joan.

How do you think the reptile fascination incorporates with the music?

It doesn’t. Somebody told me that Lenny Kravitz likes monitor lizards. A lot of musicians and actors are into animals.

As a kid, were you always into music and reptiles?

Yes, always. As a kid I was crazy. Most kids love dinosaurs. Reptile were the closest thing I could get to a dinosaur. Most kids lose their enthusiasm for it, but I kept it up.

Interview by Cheyenne Boccia