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Posted by W von Papinešu on April 16, 2003 at 11:18:29:
THE COURIER (Ballarat, Australia) 15 April 03 Ballarat's snakes charm international film-makers (Nina Lees)
The Ballarat Wildlife Park is attracting lucrative filming deals because of its growing reputation for the professional handling of snakes.
An American film crew shot parts of a documentary that features Australian snakes yesterday and Sunday.
The documentary will be aired in the US in September as part of a series called "Animal Planet", and will be screened in Australia early next year.
Film crew production assistant Mimi McGee said Ballarat had gained a reputation for its snake- handling skills.
"Ballarat is a great place to work in. We are able to get up close to the snakes here."
Ms McGee and others are drawn to the park because it offers to handle snakes in an industry governed by strict Occupational Health and Safety guidelines.
Wildlife Park managing director Greg Parker said zoos were not teaching handling skills because the practice was considered too dangerous.
"Producers want deadly snakes handled and nowadays zoos have strict handling guidelines."
Mr Parker and his sons, Stuart and Chris, have had many years' experience handling venomous snakes.
"Because we know venomous snake behaviour we can get around these problems so cameramen can get the close-up shots they are after.
"Our snakes are used to our gentle handling techniques."
The park has also aligned itself with the City of Ballarat's push to promote itself as a film-friendly destination.
"Some of these companies are prepared to pay big dollars to be able to use our park," Mr Parker said.
The park employs 26 casual and full-time people, and is home to nearly 200 snakes of 60 different species.
The first visit by television crews took place in 1987 when the ABC's Natural History Film Unit filmed on and off for eight months.
National Geographic has also filmed three times over a period of six or seven years.
Mr Parker hopes plans to build a quarantine-approved facility to house some of the most feared and dangerous species in the world will help it attract additional filming deals.
Species to be included are Siamese cobras, which spit venom, and African gaboon vipers, known for their extra long fangs.