with Wildlife Means Taking Pride in America
by Whit Gibbons
March 4, 2007
Andrews, University of Georgia doctoral student at the Savannah River
Ecology Laboratory, conducts studies with large rattlesnakes in coastal
South Carolina. She is interested in how native wildlife responds to development
and how people respond to wildlife. I asked her to describe her studies.
Here is her response.
loss and fragmentation are perceived to be the greatest threats to our
nation’s biodiversity and the foremost catalyst for federal listing
of endangered species. Scientists continue to debate about how many species
we have lost or will lose, but without question we are currently experiencing
unprecedented species loss due to irreversible patterns of habitat destruction.
can never protect all lands from development. But we can ameliorate the
effects of development, thus allowing wildlife to live in their homes
and our backyards. Most people are intrigued by wildlife, even potentially
dangerous animals such as rattlesnakes. One of my goals is to educate
developers and the general public that rattlesnakes and people can live
Bluff is a development company in Bluffton, S.C., whose mission is to
design and develop residential and recreational areas in an eco-friendly
manner. Their approach is twofold: to support ecological research and
promote scientific understanding globally, and to discover ways to build
so that wildlife eradication can be avoided locally.
research focuses on the canebrake rattlesnake. Because it has a fairly
large home range and requires a lot of land, it is significantly affected
by development. As a result, these rattlesnakes are rapidly disappearing
from almost all human-dominated places. I plan to use my research to protect
this species at Palmetto Bluff by identifying its habitat and other environmental
needs. Protecting a species like the canebrake has practical applications,
as protection measures would have broad environmental value because of
an umbrella effect. That is, protecting the rattlesnakes would ensure
protection of other wildlife species that use the same habitats but are
less sensitive to development or require fewer resources.
surgically implant small radio transmitters in canebrake rattlesnakes
so that I can track them in both developing and undeveloped areas. My
questions are (1) How do snakes in developing areas die? and (2) Does
development affect a snake’s ability to get from point A to point
B so that it can eat, hibernate, and find a mate?
practical application of the research is to know where venomous snakes
live relative to where development will result in high concentrations
of people. Local residents are understandably curious about the wildlife,
particularly the venomous snakes. I work with them to learn how to identify
snakes, understand basic animal behaviors, know what to do if they see
a venomous snake, and design a yard to reduce the presence of venomous
snakes in the immediate proximity of a house. Gaining such knowledge empowers
residents by allaying irrational fears, which allows them to enjoy the
wonders of nature inherent in local wildlife.
apply a permanent unique mark to every snake caught on Palmetto Bluff.
These individuals can then be identified when recaptured, allowing me
to gain information on all snake species relative to development. I am
also working with the development company on mapping initiatives that
will enable us to prioritize habitat preservation based on rarity or predicted
biodiversity. We hope to document as many species as possible of the birds,
mammals, reptiles, and amphibians that are present.
some rattlesnakes will die during the study. Some will die naturally;
others may be accidentally killed on roads. Some may even be killed intentionally
by people who object to rattlesnakes inhabiting their world. These fatalities
will be incorporated into the study and will elucidate how human presence
affects wildlife survival. Palmetto Bluff has demonstrated an enlightened
attitude toward protection of native wildlife, including species some
people consider unwelcome. Their open-mindedness and their investment
in the study enable this novel research.
wildlife is a part of our country’s natural heritage and part of
what makes being an American special. We should be proud of it and help
protect it. If we fail to take the initiative now, our opportunity to
preserve wildlife will be lost forever."
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