More than any other time of the year, residents are being warned to watch their step as snakes are slithering out of hiding and into the warm weather.
Already, the Golder Ranch Fire District has received 158 snake calls since January, and that’s not including the number of calls received in April. On a slow day the fire district is averaging about three calls per day. As the summer nears, Fire Chief Randy Karrer expects the number of calls to double.
“As it gets warmer it increases,” said Karrer. “Be aware of the desert animals: Gila monsters, rattlesnakes, bullsnakes, bees – be aware of your surroundings and don’t be afraid to call for assistance. That’s what we’re here for.”
Among other fire districts, Golder Ranch responds to all snake calls. Once a call is received, a crew is dispatched to the area to assess if there is any immediate danger. If there is, the crew will capture the snake and then transport it to a desert area that is within a mile of the vicinity. Josh Waling, from 1st Response Wildlife, says that in order to protect the snake species they must not be moved too far away from their den sites.
Waling is a licensed animal trapper in Arizona who catches, releases and removes animals that include rattlesnakes, owls, bobcats, rabbits, domestic cats and dogs and more. If a person encounters a rattlesnake the best thing to do is to leave it alone and calmly walk away.
“I know it’s easier said than done, but walk away,” said Waling. “Call the fire department or call a professional to have it safely removed and located to a proper area.”
If the snake isn’t poisonous, often times Waling and fire districts recommend leaving the reptile. According to Waling, king snakes are one of a few that should be left alone, as they are valuable to the ecosystem and keep rattlesnakes away. A rattlesnake will avoid an area at all costs if it knows a king snake is there.
In the unfortunate chance that a rattlesnake bites a person, it is critical to receive immediate medical attention. If a rattlesnake feels threatened it will often times release its venom. The venom can clog your blood and shut down your respiratory system. It is important to keep the wound immobilized below the heart so that the venom spreads less quickly.
Avoiding rattlesnakes and leaving them alone is Waling’s top advice. Besides the damage and pain that can be caused by a bite, residents can also avoid paying high medical expenses. A victim of a rattlesnake bite is given between 10 and 15 anti-venom vials. Each of those vials costs between $2,000 and $5,000.
Whether there is immediate danger from a snake or not, fire districts make it a priority to educate residents on prevention and safety. Tracy Koslowski, the public education/information manager and fire marshal at Drexel Heights Fire District, says that education is critical.
“We explain the difference between venomous and non-venomous snakes. We educate them on what to look for and how to handle the situation,” said Koslowski. “We educate the community on the benefits of having the creatures in our environment instead of just killing them.”
For Golder Ranch Fire District, which serves a lot of retirement communities, safety tips about other desert animals besides just snakes is important.
“Many people, especially in the retirement communities are not from Arizona and are not really desert wise,” said Karrer. “We take the opportunity to make an educational presentation. Not just about snakes but about other animals that are prevalent in the desert.”