Monday, May 12, 2008

Exploiting Ophidiophobia

I learned today that a professional exterminator in Birmingham, Alabama is marketing a snake trap. Nothing necessarily wrong with that; I used a very different sort of trap to catch and relocate several copperheads from my yard last summer (I have a five-year old daughter who likes to run barefoot). But it's both the way this trap works and the way it's marketed that raises my hackles. It's a glue trap, which is often used for mice and typically results in a miserable death by either dehydration or suffocation. Sure, you can release the animal by drenching the glue with vegetable oil, and on this they rest their claim of "humane," but how often does this actually happen? Several animal rights groups are opposed to glue traps, and although I disagree with many of their positions, cruelty is cruelty. The website says the trap "also helps control lizards," among other things. Now, why would anybody need or want to control lizards? And what about other non-target animals, like chipmunks, toads, baby 'possums, etc.? I cringe to think of a little green anole or tree frog hopelessly gummed up in that goo. But inventor Buddy Hawkins thinks God gave him the idea, so, well, there you go.

I'm a herpetologist, and I know better and more effective ways to catch (and humanely release) snakes, like those copperheads in my yard. Using funnel box traps made from plywood and hardware cloth, we caught over 400 snakes in a recent 2-year survey of the reptiles and amphibians of Conecuh National Forest (pdf here).

Several of the snake trap website's testimonials are disturbing. Here's one:
We left for vacation and when we returned five days later the snake was caught. I have attached pictures to see if you can identify what type of snake it was.
It was a gray rat snake. Harmless and quite beneficial. Five days.

On the following "news" clip (which doubles as a commercial for the trap) the owner demonstrates the depth of his understanding of the ecological value of snakes and their role in ecosystems:
"Snakes are not totally bad for the environment."
Here's Birmingham Fox 6 News reporter Chris Montana reporting from upscale Mountain Brook where people are not as accustomed to yard snakes as some of us are:

This was the line that almost made me scream:
“Not that you would want to, but with the proper supervision, you can actually humanely release a snake or whatever you catch...”
Not that I would want to? The underlying message is that it's OK to let the nasty thing suffer until good and dead. I'm also left wondering what sort of "supervision" Mr. Montana thinks a grown person would actually need to release a snake. Cool name, though, Chris Montana.

It would be nice if there had been some fair and balanced discussion of reptile conservation, but of course local TV stations know that's not what the public wants to hear.

1 comment:

Jennifer J said...

What a service you do for nature and wildlife. Beautiful photos, too. we really must be vigilant in educating (city) folk. That, too, is my goal.