Interior Secretary Cecil D. Andrus conceded today that "I hate rattlesnakes" but refused to comment on the firing by his department of a scientist who protested the sale of rattlesnake steaks at the secretary's favorite French restaurant in Washington.
In four or five days it [interest in the firing] will blow over and somebody else will be the target," Andrus said.
Andrus, visibly perturbed that he had been found in a rugged section of California's coast range, could only lament, "I've been snakebitten.
The secretary, cornered by a local reporter as he rode in a four-wheel drive vehicle, was overheard to mutter that he had killed many rattlesnakes. The idea of their being an endangered species struck him as humorous, he told companions.
The fired scientist, endangered species herpetologist C. Kenneth Dodd, had written to the owner of Dominique's Restaurant, which was offering rattler on its menu, to say that the Pennsylvania rattlesnake being served "is rapidly approaching extinction . . . I respectfully request that [rattlesnake] be removed from your menu."
Soon after, the letter was leaked to The Washington Star and Dodd, who used official stationary to write the letter, was dismissed.
Meanwhile, in Washington, rattlesnake steaks were selling like hot cakes at Dominique's.
"We sold 22 servings on Friday," the day the story of the firing broke in the papers, said Omar Portocarrero, the Dominique's bookkeeper. "I think it's mostly out of curiosity. I even tasted it, and it doesn't taste bad. But you still fell funny eating snake."
The snake now being sold comes from Texas, said Dominique D'Ermo, the owner, who stopped selling the Pennsylvania timber rattler after he received the letter from Dodd. A special load of the Texas rattlers was ordered for this weekend to handle the expected heavy demand.
Dodd, who could not be reached for comment, has called the charges on which his firing is based "ridiculous." He has said he plans to appeal the firing. Numerous wildlife conservation groups rushed to his support in the wake of the letter-writing incident and firing.