THAT'S LAUDERDALE

Snakes alive! Maybe attitudes have slithered around the corner

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comMay 27, 2014 

Stop the presses.

We've got a rattlesnake photograph in a Deep South newspaper -- and the snake is alive.

Matt Kraycar is holding up an Eastern diamondback rattlesnake he captured from a dunes area on Hilton Head Island last week.

He has its tail in one hand, while his Tomahawk snake tong grips it behind the head.

Kraycar captured the snake as part of his job. He is general manager of Critter Management, a wildlife control company.

The last time I wrote about a diamondback rattler crossing the path of humans in the dunes, a visitor from North Carolina clubbed it to death with a crab net.

But this thick diamondback, thought to be about 6 feet long, was gently placed in a large bucket and later released in a rural area on the mainland. Kraycar says he doesn't believe in killing the reptiles. He has permission from a property owner to release rattlers in a remote place.

Before Hilton Head became home to 35,000 residents and 2 million visitors a year, it was knee-deep in rattlesnakes. Or so it must have seemed.

Once a native islander told me as I stepped out of his pickup truck onto a dirt path: "Watch out for the boys."

He was talking about snakes.

People who came to hunt wore tall snake boots. People who came to develop buildings in the woods claimed rattlesnakes would turn up on tractor tires and bulldozer tracks.

Diamondbacks pack some heavy venom. But they're also reclusive and passive. They want to mind their own business, which is to keep down the rodent population. They're seen by naturalists as a signal of a healthy environment.

They are an important piece of the puzzle, but they are on the decline because of habitat loss and persecution by the tribe who thinks the only good snake is a dead snake. The Eastern diamondback rattlesnake is being considered as a federal threatened species.

The habitat they miss the most is the longleaf pine savanna, which has been virtually wiped out over the years by logging and development throughout the Southeast.

I'm no expert, but moving a snake from the thickly populated dunes areas to the rural reaches of the Lowcountry has got to be better than killing it and holding it up for a camera.

Bo Petersen reported last month in the Post and Courier of Charleston that researchers have tried to relocate the rattlers to see if they can be successfully moved from encroached habitats. They "found that the moved snakes covered a lot of ground to find a habitat similar to the one they left, but then settled," Petersen wrote.

Maybe the picture of the live diamondback in our newspaper and on our website shows attitudes are changing.

Even the Claxton Rattlesnake Roundup, held in the small town near Savannah, has changed its ways. It's now the Claxton Rattlesnake and Wildlife Festival. No longer do they buy and sell rattlesnakes, which were smoked and gassed out of burrows. Instead of a killing contest, it's an educational festival.

Stop the presses. We've got a new headline: "Snake's Alive."

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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