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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Legless friends or foes...

I admit it.  I am not a big fan of snakes.  The other day, we found yet another snake in the back yard of our house.  Last fall my husband  found an entire litter of snakes squirming around together in our yard which gets quite wet during periods of high rainfall.  Prior to that, my employee, Miguel, had been installing paving stones in a donated kennel in the back yard of the clinic when he encountered a snake.  The more he tried to gently coax the snake away from the kennel area so he could continue working, the more the little thing LUNGED at the shovel he was using as a prod. 

I do not appreciate suddenly encountering snakes in nature.  I do not respond well to legless surprises.  But I have held snakes if they are under the control of another person, as long as they do not look me in the eye.  That is when I start to panic, when his eyes meet mine.  I do believe I know the origin of my fear of snakes.  Rikki Tikki Tavi.

For those of you who are unaware of Rikki Tikki Tavi, it is an animated cartoon that I watched several times on TV as a child.  It is about a young boy who rescues and befriends the cutest little mongoose in his garden. 

The mongoose plays in the garden and loves his boy, as all good pets do.  When the boy is confronted with a cobra,  the mongoose protects his boy and battles it out with the snake. The battle scene of course is enhanced with fierce animated eye contact between the adorable mongoose and the evil snake. 

I believe it was this battle scene that induced my fear of snake eyes... perhaps that is also why I haven't been to Vegas?  Even if I am holding the snake away from me, if it turns it's little head and looks at me in the eyes, I start to hyperventilate, tense up, and my eyes get as wide as golf balls.

I remember mountain bike riding with a friend of mine in high school in a local field.  I was riding a bike that was holding me about 2 1/2 feet off the ground, surely high enough to be safe from any critter that would be crossing my path with the intentions of attacking me.  Suddenly, across my path wiggles this horrible legless creature, and I am embarrassed to say, he was a rather tiny one.  I was certain he was after me!  I screamed like a baby, panicked wildly, making the front wheel of the bike wobble uncontrollably since my arms were trembling in such a manner that I was barely gripping the handle bars.  I literally almost fell off my bike!  Not the brightest thing to do when the thing you are fearful of is awaiting your arrival on the ground!  I did not fall of my bike, but I did have to stop and recompose myself after this dreadful attack.  I bet the poor little snake had to do the same thing, curled up in a ball, hidden safely in the grass after the incident,  asking his legless friend if he saw me try to attack him!

I studied alot of exotics medicine in veterinary school.  It was fascinating stuff, but rarely did I get a chance to use it.  I amputated some iguana toes due to malnutrition, and of course educated the owner's on the lizard's proper nutrition.  I have trimmed beaks, wings, and nails on birds.  I have neutered, treated infections,  and trimmed teeth on rabbits and guinea pigs.  I worked at the Roger Williams Park Zoo for a month during my fourth year in vet school (boy do I have tales to tell from that experience!).  I have caught injured wildlife and transported them to the Wildlife Care Clinic at Iowa State University.

But nothing will impress me more than Darth Vader.  Okay, so his name was not Darth Vader.  I don't know his name.  I never really fully entered the room, well, I did, but only long enough to say that I did enter the room.  He was a large snake, Python or Boa.  I am not sure which, but he was big.  His girth had to be 16+ inches in circumference.  It took two people to escort him into the hospital.  What was most eerie was his illness.  He had an upper respiratory infection that needed treatment and was the reason for his visit.  As you stood in the room, the snake would breathe.  A normally silent breath, was quite audible due to inflamation in the airways making a sound reminiscent of Darth Vader.  It was eerie and fascinating.  The snake was given an injection of antibiotics, and sent home with more medicine.  As far as I know, he did well.  As far as I know, so did I.

For those of you who read the previous blog, I want to add this information.  For those who did not read it, head on back! 

I went online to try to identify the snakes we have seen in the yard.  I have narrowed it down to either an

Eastern Garter Snake

or a Western Ribbon Snake

As I continued to read about snakes in Iowa, I found that while these little guys that I have become familiar with are not endangered, several snakes in Iowa are endangered, and some of them are venomous.

The Copperhead Snake and the Massasauga Rattlesnake are endangered Iowa snakes.  It is illegal to kill or collect these species in Iowa. They are venomous snakes. 

While snake bites, even venomous ones, are not mandated to be reported, there are an estimated 8,000 venomous snake bites per year within the US, up to 12 of them being fatal.  The Massasauga can deliver a fatal snake bite even hours after it is dead!  The Copperhead, although endangered in Iowa, is quite common in other areas of the country, so is not at risk of extinction.  Both of these potentially deadly snakes are  protected creatures by Iowa law.

It makes me wonder, with only one mountain lion sighting being confirmed in Iowa in five years (and that confirmation was through the killing of that cat), why mountain lions are not on Iowa's endangered species list and protected.  It is obvious to me that other potentially dangerous creatures make the protected list, so why not these cats?  Mountain Lions are responsible for less than one death per year within the entire US and Canada, and yet venomous snakes are responsible for approximately 12 deaths per year within the US alone.  We won't mention our friendly hunters this time around.

I am not suggesting that the venomous snakes should be removed from the endangered species list. Although I would rather not run into one of them on a long walk, I do think these creatures also have their place in nature.  Neither mountain lions nor snakes should be kept from the endangered list simply due to human risk, since they are both ecologically valuable creatures. 

If a person can be fined or imprisoned for killing a poisonous snake, I would think the same should be true for the unprovoked killing of a mountain lion perched in a tree.

To quote the DNR, "The tolerance or intolerance of humans will dictate whether they (mountain lions) will ever be able to get a foot hold in the state. Some sort of legal status in the Iowa Code will be necessary. In the meantime, their possible presence in Iowa has generated considerable excitement both pro and con and only time will tell whether they once again will become designated wildlife in the state."

Now, I think I will go to bed, and have nightmares about snakes.  Good night.

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