Snake wranglers now on duty

New program removes rattlers from residences

There's snakes in them thar hills and now there are people who can take them away if they come too close to your house.

WildSafe B.C. provincial co-ordinator Frank Ritcey and his colleague Emily Lomas are now available to remove rattlesnakes that wander into people's yards or homes.

Ritcey said the program is just getting set up and the duo had their first call this week from a woman with a rattler in her yard.

By the time they arrived, the snake was gone, but they passed on information about how to install a snake-proof fence.

Even the fencing isn't foolproof, however, and the Kamloops Naturalist Club has members volunteering to do repairs on some of the existing fencing, he said.

Kamloops is home to the Northern Pacific rattlesnake, the only venomous species in B.C. Ritcey said the snakes are active from now until about mid-October, when they begin denning up as the weather cools down.

He didn't have any population numbers, but the snakes are found in the south-facing hilly areas, particularly around Ord Road, Cooney Bay and Lac du Bois/Batchelor Heights.

They're also a protected species, blue-listed (special concern) in B.C. and red-listed (threatened) for Canada. So despite the fear a snake can cause, they can't be harmed.

"You're not allowed to kill them for any reason."

"Just because you have a snake in your yard and you're frightened, you're not allowed to kill it. You can be charged under the Wildlife Act," he said.

"It's wildlife and we need it in our ecosystem. Every time we lose a species, we lose that biodiversity we need. They're really a neat animal. It's part of our grasslands and it's important we keep our entire ecosystem intact.

"If you're protecting the habitat of one species, you're protecting the habitat of all of these other species at the same time."

Ritcey also warned dog owners to keep their canines under control in known snake areas, such as Lac du Bois.

He's heard of three dogs being bitten by rattlers this summer, and one reportedly didn't survive.

"The issue is the dog is running off leash, it's more apt to get bit. People have to keep the dog on leash and stay on the main trails," he said.

"I've got a dog myself. It depends where I go - at Kenna Cartwright, I'll let my dog off leash. In Tranquille, where I know there are snakes in the hills, I'm not going to let my dog run off leash."

Snakes bite in defense and don't necessarily inject venom every time. However, anti-venom is only available for humans in Kamloops. Pet owners are out of luck, so keeping Fido safe from snakes is the best alternative.

The most common areas to find rattlesnakes are grasslands or open Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir forests. The snakes usually don't sit out in the open, so sticking to well-used trails is best.

Step on rocks and logs, not over them, in case there's a snake on the back side or underneath.

If you do meet up with a rattlesnake, back away slowly and leave the area. And keep your distance, even if you find a dead snake. Rattlesnakes have a biting reflex that still works for a while even after death.

"I've found five dead rattlesnakes so far this year, run over. That really hurts the population. They have a slow reproductive rate. Any time we can save a snake or keep it from getting run over, we're a lot happier," Ritcey said.

He suggested anyone who finds a snake should drop a garbage can over it if that can be done safely, then call him at 250-828-2551, ext. 4 or on his cell at 250-318-7276. Lomas can be reached at 250-828-2551, ext. 111.

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