A WILDLIFE AGENCY RELEASE RATTLESNAKES? PART 2
week I wrote that the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife
plans to release timber rattlesnakes on an island. No one lives on it,
but it is open to the public and is in the reservoir that provides the
water supply for Boston. What are the justifications for taking this
action? What have citizens in the state indicated they are concerned
As I stated
last week, the rattlesnake release plan is a good sign that the state
has the proper progressive attitude about all native wildlife and natural
environments. Not surprisingly, the concept of releasing rattlesnakes
in an area where they once occurred but no longer do has been met by
opposition in town meetings and in letters or emails to editors and
against the plan seem to have concerns about snakes in general, with
apprehensions based more on fear than on science. One worry is that
hikers could be bitten. In response, the agency notes that the state
has always had rattlesnakes in many regions and the MDFW is "not
aware of any human fatalities since colonial times." The idea is
to replenish the state's native wildlife. Many people feel that the
benefits of restoring an impressive native animal outweighs the risks
of a person being bitten by one. Furthermore, no one who lives in fear
of snakes is required to go to the island.
biologists in Massachusetts have collected years of ecological data
on timber rattlesnakes in the region. Their approach to the project
is thoroughly science-based but, as is often true with people and snakes,
misconceptions can run rampant.
but oft-repeated belief is that the agency intends to release more than
a hundred rattlesnakes at one time. In truth, the introductions will
take years with the release of no more than a few juvenile snakes a
has been carefully planned, based on years of study. The research will
continue by radio-tracking each of the newly released snakes to see
where they go and how many survive each year.
is, Will the reintroduction of rattlesnakes have an impact on wildlife
the way pythons have in the Everglades? The ecological situation is
completely different. Pythons were introduced from another continent.
Rattlesnakes were already in Massachusetts where they have eaten small
critters for centuries, long before European colonists arrived.
concern is the possibility that a rattlesnake could swim across the
reservoir to the mainland and start colonies there as well. All snakes
can swim, so one leaving the island will likely happen eventually.
a pregnant female rattlesnake does reach the mainland, if the habitat
is not suitable, she will not survive. If she does happen to have babies,
it would still take many years before her offspring could produce a
rattlesnakes take 5 to 10 years to reach maturity and have young only
once every 2 to 6 years.
that have been expressed expose a lack of knowledge about biology in
general and snakes in particular. One is that venom from the snakes
could pollute Boston's water supply. That one is total nonsense and
reveals how irrational fears about a topic can lead to misconceptions.
rattlesnakes only release their venom into another animal, not into
water. And even if they did, the amounts would be undetectable.
uninformed concern was that the rattlesnakes might breed with the racers
and gartersnakes on the island. That one is a biological impossibility.
to take a more enlightened stance about our country's wildlife heritage
and not remain shackled to old superstitions and overblown fears about
how dangerous certain animals can be.
past the landing of the Pilgrims, and ignorant beliefs about wildlife
should be cast aside. Let's embrace the 21st century with rational and
open-minded environmental attitudes. I think the time to release the
rattlesnakes has come.
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