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School Snake Takes Unusual Spring Break

by Holly Gatling, Pee Dee Bureau
30 March 1989
Reprinted from and copyrighted by The State, Columbia SC

WEBMASTER'S NOTE: We took Paco the Boa Constrictor with us in 1988 when we helped start the South Carolina Governor's School for Science and Mathematics, which shares a campus and science labs with Coker College in Hartsville SC. When maintenance folks moved Paco's massive eight-foot-tall cage into our classroom in the summer of '88, they dropped it and apparently damaged a corner. Little did we know what would happen ten months later as a result of this mishap.

Question: Where does an 8-foot long, 6-inch thick, 30-pound boa constrictor take a bath?

Answer: "Anywhere it wants to," Dr. George Sawyer, Coker College biology professor says.

And that's exactly what Paco did when the darling of the Governor's School [for Science and Mathematics] decided to leave her cage and go for a slither.

The Governor's School, located on the private grounds of Coker College, is a state-sponsored high school for academically gifted students.

Paco (short for "Mouse Apocalypse") lives in the third-floor biology lab of W. C. Coker Science Building along with a menagerie of other wild animals.

The science building, which underwent $1.2 million in renovations last year, is shared by college and Governor's school high school students.

When the cleaning crew opened the lab at 7:45 a.m. Wednesday [29 March], they found Paco in a sink luxuriating under cold, running water. They also found a flooded lab and an undetermined amount of damage to the second and first floors of the building.

Housekeeper Queen Ester Bennett said when she opened the lab door and saw the snake, "My reaction was to move. I hollered, and I ran out the door."

Housekeeping supervisor Edna Mitchell said, "I couldn't believe the snake got out of the cage and into the sink."

She said she wasn't scared but had to spend an extra half hour cleaning up the water.

"It's a good thing I'm a biologist and understand these things," Sawyer said. "If I were a dyed-in-the-wool [maintenance] plant engineer, I would have been most unhappy. We're looking at a lot of damage."

Safely back in her cage, but apparently not too happy about it, Paco was in no mood for interviews. So Sawyer did his best to interpret her behavior.

"I think he got hot and wanted out of the [lighted] cage," Sawyer said, unaware that Paco is a "she."

But Paco's caretaker, Bill Hilton Jr. a [Governor's School] biology instructor, said he believes the snake just got spring wanderlust and possibly was looking for a place to soak her itchy skin, which soon will shed.

Paco crawled into a sink which had a stopper in place and a little water for the comfort of a resident turtle that survived the ordeal.

Paco appears to have turned the water on by bumping the faucet into the "on" position. And there she sat for possibly as long as two days, Sawyer said.

When the cleaning crew saw Paco and the flood, one of them immediately called Sawyer and Heyward Lloyd, a maintenance worker who came right over.

"Paco was happy as a clam at high tide," Sawyer said.

Sawyer and Lloyd then moved her back into her cage, which had to be repaired and nailed shut in the corner where Paco broke out.

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