Ever since Hollywood celebrities began building mansions in the chaparral hills above Los Angeles they’ve had to contend with two pests: paparazzi and rattlesnakes. When it comes to the deadly reptiles, they often call one man: Bo Slyapitch, rattlesnake wrangler to the rich and famous.
On a blistering hot Los Angeles afternoon, I spent a day trailing Bo as he made his monthly rounds to various clients, many of whom he cannot name due to privacy agreements. But when asked to name clients he can identify, he pulls out a list several pages long that could easily double as a seating chart for the Oscars.
“Daryl Hannah, I’ve been to her house. Heidi Klum, Selena Gomez, Sally Field, Sharon Stone, the Osbournes, Lisa Presley, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jamie Foxx, the Rock, Arnold, Stallone, Dennis Quaid.” The list goes on.
Southern California’s historic drought has recently made rattlesnakes a particular problem. With so little moisture in the hills, rodents and birds have moved inside the gates of human residences, where there elaborate sprinkler systems and swimming pools make for an abundant source of water. The snakes are naturally drawn to the places where their prey gather to drink.
Also, while the poisonous reptiles have long been a part of the arid, mountainous landscape, over the last few years more and more celebrities and wealthy people have built huge homes high in the hills, in gated communities like Westlake Village, where we made the rounds in August. Bo points to a colossal mansion that seems to occupy an entire mountaintop. It’s Britney Spears’ 7.4-million estate.
Bo has been catching rattlesnakes here professionally for 35 years. He has also been a commercial diver, a stuntman, and an educator. He charges up to $700 for a three hour visit, money he saves up for an exotic three-month break every year. “When rattlesnakes hibernate, Bo goes on vacation,” he says.
The snakes begin to hibernate in late October, so here at the end of August, we are in the heart of rattlesnake season, and Bo’s phone rings continually with clients asking for help. He balances the emergency calls with a list of some 30 clients that he visits monthly. Most of them are happy to see him, and he considers many to be friends. He lavishes particular praise upon actor Jamie Foxx, a long-time client who, claims Bo, fondly calls him Rambo.
He finds the snakes around swimming pools, under children’s toys stacked in backyards, and occasionally inside houses.
At one palatial home in Calabasas, not far, Bo says, from the home of Khloe Kardashian (another client), he climbs a short rise in the backyard to a large split boulder. The property has a swimming pool, a basketball court, and a large pen for exotic animals including two llamas, an emu, and a zebra. Bo immediately spots a rattler curled in the shadows.
He plucks the snake out of the crack with a pair of metal pincers and holds it in the light so I can get a shot. Then he puts it in a plastic bin and seals it with tape. He says he does not often kill the snakes, but rather sets them free far outside of the city, where there are no homes.
We visit three other clients in the area, passing golf courses and a seemingly endless parade of opulent homes, some of them with lawns the size of public parks. Over the course of a few hours, we catch three snakes, including a baby rattler that he finds beneath a children’s playset.
None of his famous clients make a personal appearance during our rounds, but their homes are a reminder of the vast wealth that is in LA, hidden in the hills.
“Rattlesnakes have good taste,” says Bo. “I’d live here, too.”