Reptile wrangler wild about snakes

Al Wolf’s cellphone rings. He listens. He nods. He hangs up. “Rattlesnake at Bishop Ranch,” he tells assistant Laurie Osborne. “I’ll get this one.” He grabs the snake stick and keys to his pickup.

Al Wolf’s cellphone rings. He listens. He nods. He hangs up.

“Rattlesnake at Bishop Ranch,” he tells assistant Laurie Osborne. “I’ll get this one.”

He grabs the snake stick and keys to his pickup.

“Weather’s heating up; they’re starting to come out. Oh, but first we gotta get the monitor out of the truck,” he says, then adds an afterthought: “He’s a little aggressive.”

So Wolf grabs the monitor – a fat, long, wildly flailing lizard -– and sticks him, under great protest, in a wooden box. But the pair of rattlesnakes already in the backseat? They can come along for the ride.

Wolf, a retired San Francisco Zoo manager, has devoted his life to saving reptiles, most recently through his nonprofit Sonoma County Reptile Rescue.

At no charge, he contracts with 15 Northern California counties, most in the Bay Area, to take in pythons, corn snakes, turtles and other cold-blooded critters in need of rescuing. He finds new homes for nearly all of them, although at any given time his rural Sebastopol house contains hundreds of slithering, hissing, spitting reptiles awaiting their destiny.

“I love rattlesnakes,” Wolf said as he drove along Sonoma County’s winding country roads to Bishop’s Ranch, a rural retreat near Healdsburg, on the rattlesnake call. “To me, they’re so majestic. So poised. They have so much control when they hunt, when they move.”

Animal shelters often deliver reptiles to him or ask his assistance in rescuing stubborn, cranky or unusually large specimens. He also receives a dozen or so frantic calls a day from people who find rattlesnakes in their yards.

Each week, Wolf rustles up 30 to 40 unwanted rattlesnakes and releases them on a remote, unpopulated hillside in northern Sonoma County.

That’s the destination for the very irritated rattlesnake Wolf finds at Bishop’s Ranch. A quick-witted gardener had found the snake next to a building an hour or so earlier and used a stick to herd it into a plastic garbage bin. By the time Wolf arrived, a small crowd had gathered to watch the excitement.

Wolf grabbed it with his two-pronged snake stick and got a close look. Very close. The snake lashed its forked tongue at him, spitting venom while trying to writhe free from the clamp.

“Yeah, he needs to settle down a few days,” Wolf said. “Then we’ll release him.”

Bishop’s Ranch Director Sean Swift was happy to see the rattler head down the hill in Wolf’s pickup.

“We love snakes here, but we don’t want rattlesnakes near where people go,” he said. “He’ll find a good home for it.”

Wolf has been a snakeophile since he was a kid in Fairfax, Calif. King snakes, gopher snakes, garter snakes – all found a home with him.

But then he discovered big snakes. Snakes that can kill people. Snakes that live in jungles.

Snakes you order by the foot from reptile magazines.

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