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Houdini coils himself around his owner, Karl Beznoska. Healthy and happy now, Houdini has fully recovered from his brush with death by electric blanket

Meet Houdini, Ketchum’s most famous python
A meal of cotton and cords turned a local snake into an international celebrity. Words by Terry Smith. Photo By David N. Seelig.

Several months after becoming international celebrities, life is returning to normal for Karl Beznoska and his pet snake, Houdini. Yet normal is a relative term for a man who shares his home with a 12-foot Burmese python.

“Only about 10 people a day ask me about Houdini. It used to be about 30,” said Beznoska. Houdini is the snake who, following an unintentional meal of a queen-sized electric blanket—with the cord and control box making for a not-so-tasty dessert—achieved a global 15 minutes of fame last summer. Surgery, conducted by veterinarians Karsten Fostvedt and Barry Rathfon at Ketchum’s St. Francis Pet Clinic, saved Houdini’s life, happily concluding the potentially tragic incident.

But the story didn’t end there. The Associated Press picked up the local Idaho Mountain Express’ report on the incident, and within 24 hours thousands of newspapers, television broadcasts, radio programs and Internet services were telling the world about Houdini’s misadventure. Good Morning America, the BBC, CNN and virtually every major news agency in the world carried the story.

Beznoska enjoyed his moment in the limelight, but he’s unchanged by it. He’s still the same congenial, outgoing guy he was when, on a fateful day last July, he drove to the Idaho Mountain Express offices with a literally stuffed Houdini in the back of his pickup.

Beznoska, 70, is a native of Austria. The former ski instructor spends his time hiking and traveling frequently, and always has a good story on hand regarding his Amazon and other jungle excursions. Hanging out at Beznoska’s place, a beautiful home he built himself that is surrounded by a finely manicured yard, which borders thick brush and trees, can be like an episode of Wild Kingdom. When a large garter snake slithered in front of us, Beznoska calmly picked it up and held it for a few moments before letting it go. “If you handle them loosely, they’ll simmer down after awhile.”

Though Houdini is a pet, Beznoska is ever mindful that he is still a wild animal. “He knows me really well, but you always approach him cautiously,” he said. “They’re not like your average cat or dog. I know his behaviors fairly well, so I know when not to pick him up.”

Beznoska is an experienced snake handler. He’s owned boa constrictors and, before Houdini, he had a reticulated python. But Houdini is his favorite. Their friendship began 16 years ago when Houdini was three years old and about five feet long. The bond between the two is obvious, when Beznoska occasionally grabs Houdini’s forked tongue, the huge python doesn’t seem to mind.