Saturday, 29 June 2013

Towards a New Relationship with Rattlesnakes - via Herp Digest

By Matt Miller, Senior Science Writer June 12, 20113, Cool Green Nature, Nature Conservancy Blog- It might seem difficult to override our feelings about snakes. As Edward O. Wilson, David Quammen and others have written, many infants will shriek in terror when shown a snake. Youngsters don’t have such automatic reactions when shown more dangerous objects, like guns or poison. Kids have to be taught to avoid these things. With snakes, there’s an inborn fear—likely from humanity’s time on the savanna when stepping on a venomous snake would have very bad consequences.

The cultural hatred of snakes can run deep. Consider rattlesnake roundups, where people capture snakes (often by using gasoline fumes to flush them out of their dens) and then hold “family events.” Rattlers are subject to all manner of cruelty at these events.

But education can make a difference: in Georgia, the Orianne Society replaced a traditional rattlesnake roundup with an educational festival about snakes. It has been better attended than the previous event.

In Vermont, there are still those who would kill all rattlesnakes given the chance. As I rode through a small town with Blodgett, a large pickup pulled up next to us and hissed “SNAKE!” out the window, this despite Blodgett’s secrecy about the project. Some local residents believe the researchers are stocking snakes, a fairly common conspiracy theory wherever rattlesnakes are found.

Still, most people recognize timber rattlesnakes as an important part of the Appalachian Mountains. They are happy to know the rattlers are out there but don’t need interactions.

But what if a rattlesnake ends up in your backyard? The research partners have been handing out refrigerator magnets and brochures that list licensed snake researchers who will come and safely remove any rattlesnakes.

“It’s making a difference,” says Blodgett. “People know who to call when they have a rattlesnake too close.”

Most people will hike by timber rattlesnakes without even knowing they’re nearby. In fact, even snake researchers often have difficulty finding the snakes, even those with radio transmitters.

If you do see a rattlesnake while out hiking, consider yourself lucky, and enjoy the encounter from a distance. And consider this: While habitat loss, disease and climate change certainly pose risks to timber rattlesnakes, they also continue to be threatened by human ignorance.

So give snakes plenty of space. After facing too many years of relentless persecution and bad human behavior, they deserve it.

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