LETHBRIDGE - "At the University I think we have a very unique opportunity."
Lethbridge's resident rattlesnake expert Ryan Heavy Head examines the caution tape that has been torn down at the U of L, and the garbage that has accumulated beside a rattlesnake den that has become the spot "du jour" for students, locals and the curious to see live rattlesnakes sunning themselves.
Heavy Head, who has decades of expeience handling snakes, and works for the city as the local "rattlesnake wrangler", hopes the den can be used as an educational experience, but also that people respect the natural environment.
"Last year, we identified that den site off of the 6th level patio on University Hall... and now the public has gotten word of it, and I think it's a good opportunity. Anyone who wants to see a rattlesnake can go on the patio, look over the edge and take a picture. But the risk is that people are going to abuse this, and this is already happening."
He says onlookers can get close to the snakes without crossing the caution tape, but for some that's not enough-- and it's very unfortunate.
"I'm hoping university students themselves will maybe police the situation," he urges. "Keep an eye out for what's going on, on the patio. Everyone is welcome to go look, you're not welcome to disturb the snakes. The snakes ideally shouldn't even know you're there."
Heavy Head goes on to explain that it's a criminal offense to hurt, kill or disturb rattlesnakes, including at their den sites. It's also a criminal offense to handle them, or to be in possession of any live or dead snakes or parts.
He explains that now is the time of year when the snakes come out of their dens, and begin leaving them.
With very conservative estimates of 400-600 snakes in the Lethbridge area, he says they can be found anywhere in or around the coulees.
Heavy Head says they're not agressive, and will get out of your way, if they can. But they may or may not rattle.
And if you're not paying attention to where you're walking, hiking or having fun in the coulees, it could literally, cost you dearly.
"You're going to be in the hospital for a bit, you'll be off your feet for a couple of weeks. And there's a big bill involved. The typical anti- venom we use here runs upwards of $3,000 a vial. If you get bit, you might need 14 vials."
Still, for many, the fact that there is such diverse wildlife in the coulees including rattlesnakes fascinates many people who want to see them up close.
"People are excited to see rattlesnakes if they get the opportunity. I get many requests every year from people wanting to go out and see snakes at their den sites, and I typically refuse those requests, because anytime I introduce people to a den site, the chances are, I'm opening up a snowball effect of more people knowing about the den, and that puts the snakes in jeopardy."
Heavy Head hopes overall that people respect the environment in which the snakes live, including the one at the U of L.
"Just enjoy the fact that you can see the snakes, and be that close to them."
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