Chris Gardner/AP
The eastern massasauga rattlesnake.

Rattlesnake Roundup Is Last-Ditch Conservation Effort

May 05, 2009 06:30 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
In Chicago, emergency efforts are underway to save a species of rattlesnake. Recent legislation passed by the Obama administration could aid the project, and be crucial to preservation of other endangered species.

Rattlesnakes at Risk

Biologists are searching for the last remaining eastern massasauga rattlesnakes in the Chicago area. They plan to send the snakes to zoos and eventually to a captive breeding program where they can be bred and restored to healthier numbers. 

Eastern massasauga rattlesnakes, which were relatively abundant until about 20 years ago, are to be returned to surrounding wilderness areas, reported the Chicago Tribune. The rattlesnake roundup will take place in four separate counties throughout May, and reoccur every spring for the "next several years." Although very difficult to find due to their camouflaged appearance, the rattlesnakes are somewhat easier to spot in the springtime before grasses grow too long.

Biologist Michael Redmer told the Chicago Tribune that eastern massasauga rattlesnakes are on Illinois' endangered species list and are "a strong candidate" for the federal lists of threatened or endangered species. Human development, including urbanization and farming, is mostly to blame for the species' habitat destruction and decline.
Other rattlesnake species are also at risk, despite protective measures on their behalf. The timber rattlesnake, which is prevalent in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, is losing habitat to development, poaching and even global warming, the New Jersey Conservation Foundation reported in 2007. Timber rattlesnakes are endangered even though the expansive Pine Barrens area has been protected by law for decades.

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Background: The Endangered Species Act

Recent steps taken by the Obama administration, however, could aid rattlesnake conservation efforts, as well as projects aimed at restoring other species.

In late April, the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Department of Commerce announced they would withdraw the Bush administration's decision to overturn Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act. Section 7 is a "consultation process" that for more than two decades "successfully helped to safeguard threatened and endangered species," according to Defenders of Wildlife.

Related Topic: Saving the alala

Conservation efforts are ongoing throughout the U.S., including in Hawaii, where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working to rescue the waning population of the alala, or Hawaiian crow.

The alala is among the world's rarest species and has only been seen in the wild on Hawaii's Big Island, but has not been spotted since 2002. The $14 million project includes habitat restoration, and the cost of reintroducing the alala to its native habitat, the tropical forests of the Big Island. The alala is the last remaining species surviving from a group of native Hawaiian crows that thrived prior to human colonization.

Reference: Eastern massasauga rattlesnake


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