Massachusetts is planning to establish a Timber Rattlesnake colony on an island that is off-limits to the public. While the plan seems like a reptile invasion in the making, officials say it is all for the benefit of the said endangered species.

Timber rattlesnakes are said to experience the greatest population decline among all other native reptiles in the modern times. At present, there are only five populations of rattlesnakes scattered from the boundaries of New York, near Boston.

For the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife), saving the species of Timber rattlesnakes is of highest priority. This why the agency has decided to create a small discrete location for the snakes.

Rearing Rattlesnakes

MassWildlife plans to build the habitat at Mount Zion, which is a big island restricted to public access. Specifically, the small group of snakes will stay at the Quabbin Reservoir, situated at the heart of Massachusetts. This is also where the successful American Bald Eagle restoration program of MassWildlife took place.

Authorities plan to follow what they did with the endangered Northern Red-Bellied Cooters restoration project. Under the program, experts will catch juvenile snakes and will be held captive by the Roger Williams Zoo in Providence, Rhode Island. Looking for numerous newborn snakes will be quite a challenge because its populations in Massachusetts are very small.

Each snake will stay for two winters under the care of zoo personnel. This is to ensure that the snakes will grow in a size big enough to avert predators.

Once the snakes grow to a size of about 4 or 5-year-old wild snake, it will be released to Mount Zion. Experts estimate that this will translate to one to 10 snakes in any given year.

Creating Habitats, Monitoring Movements

Mount Zion is about 1,350 acres big and 3.64 miles long. Such measurements correspond to other locations across the state where Timber rattlesnakes stay.

The island has a quiet but varied hardwood forest that is said to be better than other Massachusetts sites. Snakes would not experience major problems in food because the place is a conducive environment for preys such as Eastern Chipmunk and White-footed Mouse.

While there is no particular data pertaining to past settlement of Timber rattlesnakes in Mount Zion, experts are almost certain that the species may have lived there in the past.

Human Fear

Humans naturally fear snakes. They have persecuted, injured and disturbed its populations throughout history. With Timber rattlesnakes being venomous, members of the public have expressed their doubts and fears about the proposed habitat. The concerns of the people were not just limited to human safety, it also entail possible damages to livestock and harm to pets.

Although Timber rattlesnakes are potentially hazardous, experts say there have been no alarming record of human harm that resulted from the reptile. This is because the species have a generally mild nature. In fact, the snakes rattle its tail every time it is about to approach a human or animal to signal its presence.

While there have been reports of Timber rattlesnake bites, it is only because the animals were provoked through illegal handling and harassment by humans.

"Humans are the greatest threat to Timber Rattlesnake," writes MassWildlife.

In Massachusetts, the species have lived long before the Europeans arrived. The species continued to thrive amid persecution, but during the past three decades, its numbers just had nowhere else to go but down.

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