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one in which he and graduate student Sarah Brosnan asked whether monkeys have a
sense of fairness. They offered two capuchins different rewards for completing a task
within view of each other, and, like the proverbial picture, a video clip of this experi-
ment is worth a thousand words: when Brosnan hands monkey B a cucumber chip after
it's seen monkey A given the tastier grape, B flings the cucumber back at her! 24
A sense of fairness may be restricted to some primates, but I'll bet snakes hold spe-
cial promise for addressing Burghardt's fifth aim, challenging us to go beyond intro-
spection, language, facial expressions, and nonverbal gestures with which we identify
mental events in ourselves and near relatives. Concern for private experiences might
even transform how we study snakes and portray them in public, as well as thereby en-
hance their appreciation and conservation. One day in the mid-1980s, when Dave Hardy
and I were manually restraining bushmasters and terciopelos, he said, “We don't have
to do this.” By then I'd pinned hundreds of pitvipers in the lab and field, but now Dave
reported zoo workers immobilizing them with tubes, a method that is safer for people
and easier on the animals. 25 Soon thereafter, comparative anatomist Alan Savitzky told
me of finding fractured viper skulls in museums, presumably from snakes that had been
pinned, and, while reviewing antipredator mechanisms in reptiles, I learned that pred-
ators mainly attack their necks and heads. 26 Heavy restraint, I concluded, by mimicking
a terrifying natural encounter, might therefore be both psychologically and mechanic-
ally traumatic to a snake.
If I were a viper, pinning my head would freak me out, make me fight like hell!
Wearing “snake's shoes” also has affected how I interpret their behavior. Henry Fitch
was skeptical that blacktails have consistent home ranges over their lifetimes, and said
that Kansas copperheads seemed to just keep traveling—but as a teenager I'd watched
him restrain these snakes with a wooden ruler, typical for herpetologists of our genera-
tions. I began to wonder if by simulating predator encounters we'd provoked our study
animals to relocate, thus encouraging abnormally nomadic lifestyles. I had to acknow-
ledge having pinned venomous snakes out of a misguided sense of necessity, but also
because I liked picking them up, especially when others admired my skills: manhandling
snakes entailed what naive bystanders regarded as charismatic prowess. Now, however,
I had to admit snakes could be studied in the field, collected as specimens, and kept cap-
tive without our doing that to them. Finally, a friend who actually needs to pin snakes
to milk venom for research has been bitten less than once every hundred thousand pro-
cedures. 27 For me the deal breakers were realizing that pinning is potentially traumatic
and that the appearance of risk and bravery on the part of those doing it, as a matter
for bragging, is misleading. Once I'd faced up to those truths I couldn't keep pinning
snakes, let alone do it for the sake of showing of.
Fewer than half of rodeo bull riders make it to the eight-second bell, so if you want
to show off some honestly fearless bravado, get on a bull!
Then there's the matter of authentically portraying dangerous animals to the public.
In one all-too-common scenario, a snake biologist pins a large rattler, raises its finger-
pinched head to the television camera, and shows off glistening fangs; in another, Sir
David Attenborough, wearing a face shield, provokes a spitting cobra into defensive
venom spraying, remarks to viewers that he'd be foolish not to respect the warning,
and moves away. 28 Which approach is easier on the animals and better promotes con-
servation is a no-brainer—when we gratuitously handle snakes in ways that simulate
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