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Edisto Island Serpentarium attracts many visitors

When Heyward and Teddy Clamp got into the routine of catching and keeping snakes while growing up in Orangeburg County, they never thought that it would eventually become part of their profession.

“My brother and I have been catching snakes since we were 10 or 11 years old,” Heyward said. “We grew up between Salley and Springfield, close to the South Edisto River Swamp, where there were lots of snakes.”

The Edisto Island Serpentarium opened in 1999, on Highway 174, just a few miles from Edisto Beach. The complex is a culmination of more than 50 years of snake-hunting adventure and experience by the two brothers, who currently live on Edisto Island. The modern indoor facility and beautifully landscaped outdoor garden house a wide variety of reptiles, mostly those collected by the Clamp brothers, and is native to the southeastern United States.

The reptiles housed indoors are kept in large glass terrariums with outdoor-related pictures painted by local artists adorning the walls. The outdoor gardens are large, low-walled open areas, and are viewed by visitors who observe the snakes living in streams, climbing in trees, or basking on stumps or logs, exactly as they would be seen if encountered in the wild. The exhibit was designed in this manner to give visitors the same thrill and exhilaration that the Clamp brothers have enjoyed for years, and still feel whenever they suddenly encounter a reptile in its natural habitat.

“This was a hobby that stuck with us for a lifetime,” Heyward said. He noted that snakes, alligators, and Nile Crocodiles live within the facility. “We have exotic snakes, and snakes that are native to the area,” Heyward said. “There are three types of rattlesnakes that are native to South Carolina; the diamondback, which is the largest, the pygmy rattlesnake, which is the smallest, and the canebrake species, which lives down here, and is a cousin of the timber rattlesnake, which lives in the mountains. By the DNA, the two are exactly the same snake, but the two have different markings and are different in size. The canebrake can reach about five and a half feet in length, but the timber rattler rarely grows to be more than four feet long.” Other native poisonous snakes housed at the Serpentarium include cottonmouth water moccasins and coral snakes.

“We also have a good representation of non-venomous native snakes here, such as the King snake and scarlet king snake, rat snake, garter snake, black racers, coachwhips, and three kinds of water snakes. We have the brown, banded, and red belly water snake,” Heyward said. “The banded snake is often mistaken for cottonmouths, and the brown water snake is the one most likely to drop into people’s boats. They are the highest climbers, and can reach as much as 10 feet up into branches.” He added that you wouldn’t find a moccasin more than a foot above the water.

Turning to the subject of his alligators, Heyward said that he has the oldest permit ever issued by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to possess alligators. “Just before we opened here, we went out and caught 19 alligators for our business,” Heyward said. He noted, however, that the law has changed since that time, and now a special permit is required to catch individual gators.

Heyward also vividly recalls an instance two years ago where he and Teddy rescued an alligator that had actually washed up on Edisto Beach. “We had to remove an alligator from the beach. Alligators don’t live in saltwater, but do live in brackish water, and sometimes they get washed out into the ocean and get stranded.”

Heyward also noted that DNR was short-handed on manpower when the call concerning the stranding came in, so he and his brother, Teddy, were called concerning the situation. “Ted went down there, and the gator was very skinny and would barely move. The Fire Department had pulled a truck up beside it to shade it from the direct sun, and people were pouring water over it. Ted and some EMS technicians at the scene got it onto a gurney, took it to Ted’s pick-up, and he brought it here, and we got it into an enclosure.”

Heyward said he and his brother flushed the saltwater and seaweed out of the alligator with a hose. “The gator began to feed, and is now part of the Serpentarium. One of the firefighters at the beach called the gator ‘Fluffy,’ and the name stuck. It is now one of our more dominant alligators.”

 For additional information visit http://www.edistoserpentarium.com/