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Students study relocating rattlesnakes away from humans

June 27, 2020 GMT

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Marshall University graduate students are aiding Division of Natural Resources biologists in determining whether timber rattlesnakes can be moved to locations where they have fewer interactions with humans, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reports.

A three-year survey helped biologists identify the locations of more than 400 individual timber rattlesnakes. They determined that Kanawha State Forest, near Charleston, and Coopers Rock State Forest, east of Morgantown, are among the top spots in the state for people to encounter the rattlers.

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The Marshall students captured 30 of the snakes in the two state forests and attached miniature radio transmitters to them to begin tracking their movements. This year and next year, the students will divide the snakes in each forest into three groups. One group will be moved to a new site within their home range, a second group will be relocated outside of their home range, and a third group will remain in place.

The idea is to see how well the snakes adapt to the relocation and determine whether they will attempt to return to their home range. That will help DNR biologists determine if rattlesnakes found in areas frequently traveled by people can be moved to more remote locations without harming the snakes.

The timber rattlesnake is the only rattlesnake species found in West Virginia and was designated as the official state reptile in 2008. Its population has been in decline for years and it is considered a “vulnerable” species, subject to possible extinction. Habitat loss and encounters with snake-fearing humans are among the timber rattlesnake’s biggest threats.

“Every snake you see in your yard, in the woods or in a park fills a role in our ecosystem,” said Elizabeth Johnson, one of the Marshall graduate students involved with the project. In the case of the timber rattler, helping control the small mammal population is one of its prime roles, she said.

“I know a lot of people are afraid of snakes, but I promise they don’t want to hurt you or your family,” Johnson said. “If you see a rattlesnake, it’s best just to leave them alone.”

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