A western rattlesnake is shown in the Okanagan Valley, in British Columbia, in this undated handout photo. British Columbia’s rattlesnakes don’t get much respect but biologists are working to change that while they try to save a diminishing species in an Okanagan Valley nature reserve. Christine Bishop says the snakes are shy, defensive and nature’s rodent killers but some travelling on the roads through the reserve “think they’re doing mankind a favour by running them over.” (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Jeff Brown)

Scientists trying to save B.C.’s western rattlesnakes from becoming roadkill

Long, cold winters and short summers mean females can’t reproduce every year

British Columbia’s rattlesnakes may not get much respect, but scientists are working to change that — and in the process, save a diminishing species.

University and government researchers have been focusing on one population of western rattlesnakes in a fairly pristine basin where there hasn’t been much development.

But even in this “big, round bowl in the South Okanagan Valley,” the creatures are under threat, according to Karl Larsen, a professor in the natural resource science department at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops.

He says the Okanagan region’s long, cold winters and short summers mean females can’t reproduce every year.

“Then on top of this you throw a high death rate due to vehicles, you’ve got a recipe for disaster and that’s what you’re seeing,” Larsen said.

Larsen said a typical two-lane road in the Okanagan Valley sees only about 350 vehicles per day. Yet the population of roughly 2,500 western rattlesnakes living in the area sees a death rate of about six to seven per cent every year from vehicles.

READ MORE: Rattlesnakes in parts of South Okanagan could be hissssss-tory

Christine Bishop, a research scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, said some of the snakes are killed because drivers don’t see them — but others are run over intentionally.

She said the snakes are shy, defensive and natural rodent killers, but some drivers travelling through the basin “think they are doing the world a favour by killing a snake.

“Snakes are one of those animals that are in the list of top 10 fears people have and there’s a lot of persecution towards snakes,” said Bishop.

“Then there’s the anti-snake messaging that people get constantly, starting with Satan in the form of snake and tempting Eve, all the way through something like Harry Potter where one of the big villains was a large snake.”

Larsen said this means western rattlesnakes in the area are headed for local extinction, also known as extirpation.

“It means things are very dire. It is estimated that the population is going to struggle and might die out over the next 100 years, if not sooner,” he said.

Bishop, Larsen, and one of Larsen’s students are working with the provincial transportation department to build passageways for the snakes that go under the roads.

But how do you tell a snake to use the tunnel? Larsen said he and his team will study how often the snakes use those channels over the next few years to see if it’s working.

“Are they truly cutting down the number of roadkills, or is it just a nice thing that makes us feel good but really not have an effect?” he said.

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Firefighters have doused a Peachland house fire

Fire crews are still on scene investigating the cause of the BBQ fire which made its way to the home

Special memorial service to say goodbye to murdered teen

A memorial service and celebratio of life was held Tuesday for murdered teen Elijah-Iain Beauregard

Wilson M. Beck Charity Golf Tournament in Kelowna benefiting YMCA of Okanagan

The tournament is sold out with 144 golfers swinging for the cause

Is construction in Kelowna hurting small businesses, or helping them?

Voices from both sides of the spectrum weigh in

Kelowna baseballers invited to league all-star game

The 2019 West Coast League All-Star Game will have two players from the Kelowna Falcons

VIDEO: B.C. MLA Michelle Stilwell takes first steps in nearly 30 years

‘It actually felt like walking. It’s been 27 years… but it felt realistic to me’

False report of dead body leads police to sex dolls at Manning Park

Princeton RCMP breathed a sigh of relief, momentarily, when they discovered a… Continue reading

Ironman returns to Okanagan after seven-year absence

Subaru Ironman Canada is coming back to Penticton in 2020

Grand Forks fire chief found to have bullied, harassed volunteer firefighter: report

WorkSafeBC, third-party human resources investigation looking into allegations complete

Okanagan College campus flies Syilx flag

The Okanagan Nation Alliance flag was raised at a ceremony at Vernon campus on July 16

Dog recovering after being drenched in hot coffee, B.C. man charged

Man was taken into custody, charged, and released pending a court date

Taekwondo instructor, 21, identified as B.C. bat rabies victim

Nick Major, 21, an instructor at Cascadia Martial Arts in Parksville

Science expedition to Canada’s largest underwater volcano departs Vancouver Island

Crews prepared for a two-week research mission to the Explorer Seamount

Summerland clinic will be closed on August long weekend

Medical office assistant needed at Rosedale Medical Clinic

Most Read