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

Agassiz teacher’s Amazing Race takes students on Canada-wide adventure

AESS student say they had the experience of a life time

WATCH: Brother of missing Hope woman makes emotional appeal for more media attention

Next search for Shawnee Inyallie Nov. 18 along Highway 1 towards Boston Bar

Gas price drop expected to hit Fraser Valley today

Analyst says to take advantage, warns slight increase may follow

Players Guild challenges Chilliwack residents to solve classic Agatha Christie whodunit mystery

The Chilliwack Players Guild is performing Murder on the Nile from Nov. 22 to Dec. 2

Fashion Fridays: 5 coats you need this winter!

Kim XO, lets you know the best online shopping tips during Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

B.C. to fund gender-affirming surgeries for transgender people

Roughly 100 people in B.C. travel each year out of province for lower surgeries

U.S. mayor and dying dog’s roadtrip to B.C. goes viral

First vacation in three years came a month after blood cancer diagnosis

Federal fall update expected to offer more support for struggling news industry

Ottawa committed $50 million over five years for local journalism in ‘underserved communities’ last budget

UK’s May appeals to public on Brexit, braces for more blows

British Prime Minister Theresa May answered questions from callers on a radio phone-in, the day after she vowed to stay in office

VIDEO: Stan Lee leaves posthumous message for his fans

Marvel Comics’ co-creator died on Monday at the age of 95

$136M in transit funding coming to B.C.

The announcement was made at the BC Transit yard in Langford on Friday morning

Ottawa apologizes to Japanese family in B.C. after chopping historic cherry trees

Plaque installed in Prince Rupert to honour the memory of Shotaro Shimizu

Two B.C. police officers, held in Cuba for months, cleared of sex assault allegations

Port Moody Const. Jordan Long and Vancouver Const. Mark Simms have been in Cuba since March

Most Read