August 25, 2011
Conservation Groups Seek Protection For Rattlesnakes
Wildlife coordinator for Alabama´s Conservation Department, Mark Sasser reports that he has seen a decline with the eastern diamondback rattlesnake and other species associated with long leaf pine forests and his department is working to re-establish suitable habitat so the species can rebound, reports the ASsociated Press (AP).
Snake researcher Dr. Bruce Means and conservation groups The Center for Biological Diversity, Protect All Living Species and One More Generation, want the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to list the snake as threatened because of its shrinking range in the Southeast, including south Alabama.
Means and the other groups submitted an extensive scientific petition to the US Fish and Wildlife Service detailing the snake´s natural history and decline toward extinction. The petition initiates a formal, multiyear review process under the Endangered Species Act to determine whether the diamondback warrants protection as a “threatened” species.
The groups first documented the decline of the eastern diamondback rattlesnake in a paper published in 2000 in the scientific journal Herpetological Natural History. The paper concluded that the species was “declining almost all over its range” and that human exploitation was having “a severe impact on remaining populations.”
Means has conducted fieldwork in the Southeast for 40 years, including extensive research on the eastern diamondback, and claims, “The eastern diamondback rattlesnake is a wildlife icon of North America. Africa has its lion, Asia its tiger, and we can boast of this marvelous ℠Don´t Tread On Me´ snake.”
“Like so many others, it´s a wildlife treasure that we must not allow to go extinct. Remaining habitat for the snake must be preserved, and negative public attitudes toward these non aggressive animals must be reversed,” Dr. Means said in a press release.
The eastern diamondback was once abundant in longleaf pine savannas across the southeastern United States but only 2 to 3 percent of the original habitat remains. Exploitation by humans is also having a severe impact.
Each year, thousands of the rattlesnakes are killed for their skins and meat with no harvesting limits in South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana. In Alabama and Georgia, eastern diamondbacks are targeted by “rattlesnake roundups” – festivals that offer prizes to encourage hunters to collect the imperiled snakes, which are exhibited and then killed.
“Sadly, the demise of the eastern diamondback is being incentivize by rattlesnake roundups,” said Jim Ries of One More Generation. “Converting these events to rattlesnake festivals where the species is celebrated for its value to the ecosystem would continue to generate revenue for local communities while preserving the species.”
Although it is venomous, the eastern diamondback rattlesnake poses little public safety risk. More people are killed every year by lightning strikes and bee stings. “Securing protection for the eastern diamondback is likely to take several years,” said Collette Adkins Giese, a conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity.
“We hope that steps will be taken in the interim to protect the eastern diamondback and prevent further population declines.”
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