Yes, says a coalition of conservationists in the south and eastern United States.
AL.com reports that wildlife groups including the Center for Biological Diversity, Protect All Living Species and One More Generation have petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the eastern diamondback rattlesnake under the Endangered Species Act. The petition seeks to grant the snakes “threatened” status.
Conservationists estimate that the eastern diamondback population has declined from 3 million to about 100,000. The rattlesnakes make their homes in longleaf pine savannas, which have been depleted since the 1930s by logging and development.
The Associated Press reports that only 2-3% of longleaf pine habitat remains. In Tallahassee, FL, researcher Bruce Means told the AP that the rattlesnakes are a “wildlife treasure” that shouldn’t be allowed to go extinct. Mark Sasser, a wildlife coordinator with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources in Alabama, agrees.
“[The rattlesnake] is very valuable to the ecosystem, but it doesn’t get a lot of love,” Sasser told the Birmingham News. “They serve a vital role in the environment … Without snakes in general to control rodent populations, we would be knee deep.”
Sasser hopes to reestablish territory for the snakes and told the Birmingham News that the state is working with U.S. Fish and Wildlife to preserve their remaining habitat. “We are [also] trying to influence people not to collect the snakes from the wild,” he said.
In addition to loss of habitat, the petition also cites hunting and traditional “rattlesnake roundups” as contributing factors in the species’ dwindling population. For these carnival-style “roundups,” hunters gather upwards of 60 live snakes as attractions. The snakes are milked for their venom, offered to researchers or used to train hunting dogs.
“We turn some of them loose,” said Don Childre, a volunteer with the Rattlesnake Rodeo in Opp, AL. “It depends on the situation at the time.” Childre did not discuss the fate of the snakes that aren’t released.
Photo credit: Clinton & Charles Robertson (Creative Commons Share Alike)