“Hey! There’s a rattlesnake out here!” Yeah……..sure, I thought. Having just concluded a reptile presentation for some Yuma 4th graders visiting Imperial National Wildlife Refuge, I knew that they were thinking snake thoughts. And one of our snakes I had shown them could easily be mistaken for a rattlesnake.
But when I emerged from the visitor center to check it out, to my amazement — and their satisfaction — the reptile under the creosote bush was, indeed, a four foot western diamondback rattlesnake. This desert dweller was content to remain coiled in the bush’s cool shade. However, since that particular creosote was a scant 25 feet from tables full of 10-year-olds, I decided to remove the danger from an otherwise comfortable picnic of peanut butter sandwiches, apples, and a cookie.
I searched for my snake tongs, snake hook, and a large plastic trash can with a lid. Then, while teachers kept the students at a safe distance, I approached the snake to relocate it for the safety of Refuge visitors, as well as for the snake’s safety.
With other ideas, however, the snake slithered down the hill toward the picnic tables, increasing the concern for safety and the possibility of evacuation of the picnic area if we lost visual contact. Fortunately, my persistence paid off and I was able to control the rattler with the snake hook and place it gently into the trash can. The danger removed, I placed the container in the back of a pickup to await transfer to its new home.
The new home was not all that far from where the pit viper was found, but far enough to keep it a safe distance. Some people would be quick to say, “Let’s take it a few miles from here and be done with it.” Studies have shown, however, that most snakes relocated more than a mile or two from their capture point have less than a 50% chance for survival, mainly due to not knowing the new territory and its hunting grounds.
To hunt, rattlesnakes coil beside a rodent trail and pick off rats and mice that travel a common route. That’s one of the reasons these snakes have been so successful for millions of years. On the other hand, their look-alike cousins, gopher snakes (also called bullsnakes) actively hunt their prey by poking into holes, burrows, and even birds’ nests.
As I relocated the rattlesnake, at no time did it act aggressively. Its main interest was fleeing the area after being discovered. The minute it was released from the trash can, it made a beeline into a nearby rock pile, away from human contact.
This was only one of the opportunities I’ve had to relocate rattlesnakes at the Refuge. When visitors report a snake or when locals call to ask to have one removed from their property, I am more than willing to respond. I appreciate their concern for the welfare of the snake as much as their own.