Endangered rattlesnake gets sanctuary in Venango County
By Bill Vidonic
Published: Sunday, Feb. 19, 2012
The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy last week bought 55 acres of land in rural Venango County to protect an endangered rattlesnake.
Pennsylvania officials declared the eastern massasauga rattlesnake an endangered species, and the rattlesnake is under consideration for federal protection, which could help secure additional funding for conservation efforts and open up the resources of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
"They bring balance to the ecosystem, and they are part of our history in Pennsylvania and worth preserving," Ryan Miller, a zoologist with the conservancy, said about the snakes.
Miller wouldn't disclose the exact location of the property, only saying it was in the northwestern corner of Venango County. The conservancy said the property contains more than 12 acres of wetlands and 1,600 feet of stream.
"We know (the snakes) are in the area," Miller said. "They're very hard to find, they stay hidden in the grass."
Miller said it's unknown how many of the rattlers live on the Venango County land or in three other sites in Venango and Butler counties, but the numbers have been dwindling.
"One place is just a 2-acre area of grass," Miller said. "They are barely hanging on."
He added that the conservancy has tagged about 300 of the rattlers statewide with microchips, so they can be tracked. Miller said poaching is a concern, and law enforcement will be able to track the snakes with the microchips. He said some people believe that snake venom can help with medical problems, and has been explored for treatment of arthritis, polio and multiple sclerosis.
Miller said the snakes eat mice and rodents, which help balance out the ecosystem.
"They hold a niche in these little grasslands that have held on since the Ice Age," Miller said.
"If we lost (the snakes), who knows what we could have lost in the long run• We could lose some benefit we don't even know of," Miller said.
The purchase price for the Venango land, which wasn't available, was funded through a bequest of Helen Katz, a Pittsburgher who bequeathed $5 million to the conservancy several years ago.
Henry Kacprzyk, curator of Reptiles and Kids' Kingdom for the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, praised the conservancy's purchase of the land for the eastern massasauga rattlesnakes.
"We know there numbers are very low," he said. "They were once more common in Western Pennsylvania. They do well in bottomlands. Most people don't know they're there when they are there."
He attributed their decline to loss of habitat due to agriculture, road building and urbanization.
He said the purchase of the land could help other species such as otters, beavers, wild turkeys and deer.
"A lot of other species will be able to ride the coattails of this conservation effort for the massasauga," Kacprzyk said.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Analysis: Steelers could fill needs with free agents while not spending big bucks
- Steelers to release LaMarr Woodley; Taylor restructures contract
- Crosby lifts Penguins over Capitals in last game of road trip
- Sbarro again files for bankruptcy reorganization
- Community cooperation credited in Glassport shooting arrests
- Charges expected in fatal Duquesne accident
- Health secretary sees benefits of SPHS Primary Care
- Lincoln Way upgrade begins
- Bill would limit private meeting circumstances
- Job cuts at AGH part of ‘strategic’ process
- Mt. Pleasant Rotary makes donations to community organizations