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Retro HoCo: Safari Sam, Enchanted Forest's reptile wrangler

Twice a day at the Enchanted Forest in Ellicott City, Sam Seashole would walk into a room full of cottonmouth snakes, pick one up and milk the venom from its fangs before a rapt audience.

There were a few bites.

Mustachioed and muscular, Seashole ran the former amusement park’s Reptile Institute from 1978 through 1980. It featured a variety of exotic animals, including snakes, crocodiles, caimans, parrots and a baboon.

Seashole’s animal whispering gained him local prominence; his face appeared in The Baltimore Sun several times during his Reptile Institute years, during which he lobbied to relax the laws on keeping exotic animals. He even had his own show on local cable called “Safari Sam’s Animal Kingdom.”

But fame in Maryland was fleeting. The Reptile Institute closed in 1980 — neighbors reportedly objected to the venomous snakes, and there was controversy after Seashole’s beloved baboon died.

He later moved to the Philippines to go to veterinary school and eventually returned to his home state of South Carolina to open a veterinary practice. He still works with big reptiles at local zoos but said he does not keep them as pets.

“I don’t really want to bring it home,” said Seashole, who turns 67 this month.

He does, however, have a Chihuahua, some sheep, pigs and a house cat.

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