Justin Bieber used his pet snake as a fashion accessory at the MTV Video Music Awards last summer, wrapping the peach-and-orange reptile around his wrist while he posed for the paparazzi.
Now the baby albino boa constrictor, named Johnson, is the star of the show at the Reptile & Amphibian Discovery Zoo in Owatonna, Minn.
It seems that Johnson's status as the 18-year-old superstar's pal was short-lived. Last fall, the Biebs donated the snake to an online charity auction for Pencils of Promise, an organization that builds schools in developing nations.
Michael Kronick, a Minneapolis man who deals in celebrity memorabilia, snapped it up, but not, surprisingly, for its celebrity cachet.
Kronick, a self-described animal lover, never intended to keep the 2-foot-long snake. "I'm scared of mice and snakes," he said.
Instead, he bought it to protect it from teenage girls with Bieber fever -- and little knowledge about boa constrictors.
"It's scary that someone could love Justin Bieber and buy the snake and when it gets too big not know what to do with it," Kronick said.
To keep Johnson from becoming "the most famous pair of cowboy boots," Kronick bought it and donated it to the southern Minnesota zoo, which specializes in reptiles.
Kronick wouldn't disclose how much he paid for the snake, saying only: "It wasn't free. It didn't break me. But I feel like I did the right thing."
Zoo director Jamie Pastika couldn't agree more.
"We're excited about this," he said. "A lot of people don't know we're here."
After being cared for by the auction house until it could be shipped, the Bieber boa settled into the zoo's rainforest exhibit last week. Already it has attracted national attention. Johnson was featured on TMZ, a celebrity gossip show and website, E! Online and several TV stations. And Pastika has high hopes that the celebrity connection will draw the biggest crowds since the zoo opened in 2009.
Johnson seems to be acclimating to Owatonna, according to zookeeper Barry Benjamin. The snake, which is expected to grow to 8 feet, is maintaining its diet of dead mice -- and the name Bieber gave it. ("We probed it to make sure it was male," Benjamin said.)
In the future, Pastika said visitors may be able to pet Johnson and have photos taken with him. For now, the snake is on display and will have a leading role in reptile shows this weekend.
And Johnson has found a new pal. "My 7-year-old daughter Brianna is so excited that Justin Bieber has touched the snake," Pastika said.
Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619