By Shannon Lane @shannonroselane
Scroll down for the full story
Videographer / director: Robert Killorn
Producer: Shannon Lane, James Thorne
Editor: Sonia Estal
18-year-old Lara Mlinaric from Croatia, met 22-year-old reptile-enthusiast Christopher Shannon on the internet in 2016 when she asked him a question about one of her animals.
She said: “This is where it just kind of hit off, like one question after another and then conversation just naturally flowed. So here we are today.”
Lara first became interested in reptiles as a young girl.
She told BTV: "I was always interested in snakes before, I just always kept it to myself because when you have a family who doesn't really share the same passion about it. I've always wanted an exotic animal and I was just thrilled the first time you get something in your house..
Chris, who owns over 60 snakes, also first became fascinated by reptiles as a young child.
He told BTV: "My family has always taught me to fear snakes, so since I was a little kid I have always been taught to like, ‘Oh, don’t go near it. You see this?, it’s dangerous, it’s venomous, it’s deadly, run away or tell the family’.
“But when I was eight, I was riding my bike in the abandoned house you see right now and I found a Malayan Krait slithering on the side of the wall. I was really terrified at the moment, so I picked up a rock and I threw it at the snake.
“Luckily it didn’t hit the snake, but the snake was very startled by it, got into a defensive coil, and hid its head. It was really terrified.
“And at that moment something just like clicked in my head. I basically saw that that snake is not out to get me. What I have been taught is they are after you, they are dangerous, but that snake is an extremely venomous animal and it didn’t want anything to do with me.
“It was spooked and it slithered away. And from that moment on, I am like, “Wow, these are very misunderstood creatures, and I want to go tell my family. I want to go and tell anyone I can that this teaching is wrong.
“And that’s basically how I started, I loved snakes from that moment on. I just found them fascinating, I started looking into them, reading about them from the internet or from a ton of books I begged my mom to buy for me.”
The couple met online in 2016, and have been dating long-distance since 2018.
Chris lives in Bangkok, Thailand and is a private keeper, breeder and educator, and his girlfriend plans on making the move to live with him later on this year.
Lara said: "What I like about Chris the most is his personality, his character, the way he's so patient with other people's questions. The way he answers them and trying to change the perspective a lot of people's views on snakes about all that they're not really those beasts.
“He's just a really beautiful soul trying to teach about bugs, insects, this and that and telling them about how important they really are for the ecology.”
Chris has over 60 snakes, plus tarantulas, centipedes, lizards and frogs.
He keeps his animals in a private out-house near his home, where he handles and feeds them.
Chris’ collection contains some of the world’s most deadly snakes, such as the King Cobra and Malaysian Blue Coal Snake.
He said: "The most dangerous snakes in my opinion would be King Cobras. But they can also be the most understanding.
“They have a very inquisitive look, it’s hard to explain. When you look at them sometimes you will see that they are also looking directly at you, they put all their focus onto you and you can’t really get around that.
“Sometimes you might think that you can outsmart the snake in some types of handling techniques
“But for King Cobras, sometimes they will fake that they are paying attention to just that, so when you put your hand behind them sometimes they will notice.”
A bite from the King Cobra is capable of injecting enough neurotoxic venom to kill 20 people.
Chris said: "The most venomous snake, well, right now it’s still under some debate but I truly believe that the Malaysian Blue Coral Snake in my collection would be the most venomous.
“It is a very shy animal and barely anyone has ever been bitten by the snake which is why we have just found out in 2018 how portent their venom really is. They have something called a calliotoxin which is a specific toxin to that only snake.
"And what that toxin does is it affects your sodium channels. It will turn on all your nerves at once, putting you in a state of paralysis. You will be paralyzed and you will collapse and die within seconds of one bite.
“I have been bitten numerous times by non-venomous snakes, about 200 or more times in my entire lifetime now. But I have been bitten by venomous snake twice.
“I was milking a snake for a future anti-venom. It was a big Malayan Pit Viper and I have never got them nearly that size before. So I didn’t know how much strength she had and I just worked with her and she just turned her head down and bit me.
“No one wants their head pinned and milked. So, of course she was very defensive, she only bit me out of defense, she didn’t truly invenomate me. It was a warning bite. If it was a full invenomation I could have lost my whole hand or my arm, "
Despite the danger of these snakes, Chris is very comfortable handling them - and is now teaching his girlfriend Lara how to do so too.
Lara said: “Chris will definitely be teaching me about how to look after his snakes incase he’s away for a jungle trip or something. And then say when I live with him, I'm already there. So I can always help them with the care of his animals.
"When I handle the most venomous snakes, I feel calm. I know a lot of people don't really believe it, but honestly I do because I really trust the animal.
“And I know the animal is not going to bite you without a reason. I know a lot of people may say I’m insane, but honestly, everyone loves something. You know, everyone shares a passion for something and to me, I know about this."
Chris added: "I would feel very comfortable with her looking after my snakes, right now, she is fine taking care of many species, but for the very venomous ones, I will have to teach her again.
“Different species require different requirements, so of course she is going to be okay working with some species but some other ones I will have to ease her into it.”
Chris is sure to warn people of the dangers of handling these snakes, and does not encourage people to do it at home.
He said: "Do not try that at home but do take the information I give you to heart. These animals are extremely misunderstood and some animals might not be as nice as others.
Chris and Lara both want to straighten out misconceptions surrounding snakes.
Chris said: "The most common misconception would be that snakes are evil, they are out to get you. In my opinion I have been with snakes my entire life and I have never been bitten by a snake for no reason.
"They have only bit me because when I do rescues I’m quite frantic with the rat snakes trying to relocate them into a bag to set them free somewhere else. And they are of course going to feel like, ‘Oh no, someone’s going to eat me.’ So they are going to bite."
Lara added: "What I really do want to highlight about snakes is to tell people before they see a snake in the wild that the snake is not out to get them. The snake is just going its way.
"So before you reach out for the first thing on your sight to hit it or kill it or something, really do get to know more about them and just know that they are important for the ecology, know that they are protected species and that not only is it completely unnecessary to kill them but it’s also illegal. That’s what I really want to add.”
Once Lara makes the move to Thailand, the couple plan on starting their own rehabilitation centre to rescue King Cobras and other snakes who are in need of help and cannot survive in the wild.
Chris said: “We will do a rescue centre for snakes that we find in need of help, either from the wild or from captive keepers who cannot take care of them properly or need them to go to some place safe.
“And we will also have breeding programs, conservation programs to preserve these animals for the future."