To the very end, Ryan Forkell stuck by his story he had discovered a young Western diamondback rattlesnake at Kanopolis Lake.
But shortly before 1 p.m. Friday, his claims collapsed, and he admitted it was nothing but a hoax.
“All right I’m sorry to say it was a captive snake,” Forkell, a Manhattan herpetology enthusiast, told The Hays Daily News. “I messed up. I didn’t think it would be as big of a deal. I’m sorry.”
Moments later, he repeated the admission — and apology — on the Kansas Herpetology Facebook page where he had initially claimed to have discovered the baby Western diamondback rattlesnake a week ago today.
Except for the fact he was attending the Kansas City Reptile Show in the Overland Park Convention Center, where he apparently purchased the snake, believed to be about only 7 inches long.
“It was a tiny baby, which means they are reproducing,” Forkell initially claimed, saying the discovery was found near the Horsethief Trail at Kanopolis State Park.
Instead, he admitted purchasing at least one Western diamondback at the Kansas City reptile show, but said he wasn’t able to even bring it home because he was in trouble with game wardens from the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism for selling hognose snakes, “so I didn’t want it here since I’m not allowed to have them.”
Despite that, he continued to claim he found and captured a wild-born snake.
“It is not the same snake,” Forkell said.
It wasn’t until The Hays Daily News confronted him with information from a Kansas City reptile dealer, confirming the snake in the photo wasn’t wild-caught that he recanted his story. It’s not known if the reptile dealer pressured him to come clean.
“I know for a fact that animal is not a wild-caught one,” said Jason Hormann, who asked not to be identified by name.
Hormann, however, said he saw Forkell at the show on the same day as Forkell said he located the snake at Kanopolis, more than 200 miles to the west.
Hormann said he already has expressed his skepticism to Forkell about the claim.
Hormann wouldn’t say if he knew who sold the Western diamondback to Forkell.
“I can’t say,” was all he would say when asked if he sold the Western diamondback to Forkell.
Forkell also didn’t respond to a question asking if he had purchased the snake from Hormann.
Hormann, the owner and operator of Kansas City Reptile Distributors, said there are gray areas in Kansas law covering the sale of venomous snakes.
State law, he said, bans the sale of “non-native” specimens but doesn’t make it clear if that involves just species native to Kansas or to the United States.
“I sell reptiles, but I don’t sell venomous snakes,” he said.
He quickly backed away from that, however, saying he will order them from other suppliers and then have them drop-shipped directly to the customer’s residence.
“It never comes into my possession,” Hormann said.
“Ninety-nine percent of my business is non-venomous reptiles.”
Forkell said the Western diamondback snake that was in the photograph he provided to The Hays Daily News no longer was in his possession, but instead was in the possession of a friend.
“I do not posses any venomous snakes at my house as it is illegal,” he said.
Nick Schwien is managing editor at The Hays Daily News.