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Celebrating the Year of BC Snakes

Feb 10 2013

The Chinese Lunar New Year begins on February 10 this year, and marks the start of the Year of the Snake. Let's make 2013 and the Year of the Snake a good year for snake conservation in BC.

Bad Rap

Snakes come in different colours, patterns, and textures. Feared by most, they are remarkable predators and the best tricksters in the animal kingdom. In BC as everywhere else in the world, they get a bad rap. A recent article in the Ottawa Citizen reported that many fear the "destructive power" of snakes. In China, some couples have even tried to avoid having children during the Snake year.

Snakes Losing Ground in BC

Small, secretive, often dependent on restricted geographic ranges, snakes in BC are highly vulnerable to habitat loss, roadkill, and human persecution. Our snakes are not doing well in the province, and they deserve all the protection they can get. Six different snake species exist in BC, and one of them, the Pacific gophersnake, is already extirpated. Two other species are endangered, two are threatened, and one is listed as special concern.

Quick overview of what we have and what we are losing in the province.

The sharp-tailed snake, federally listed as endangered and red-listed in BC, is small and lives in several sites on southeastern Vancouver Island and the southern Gulf Islands. Its small range in the province makes it vulnerable to local habitat loss and fragmentation due to human activities.

The desert night snake, federally listed as endangered and red-listed in BC, is only found in a very small area in Canada in the southern Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys. Night snakes occur in dry shrub steppe, grasslands and talus slopes. Habitat loss and fragmentation due to urban and agricultural development as well as human persecution are the major threats to the survival of this species.

The Great Basin gophersnake is federally listed as threatened, and blue-listed in British Columbia. They live in the grasslands, shrub steppes, and dry open forest of the Okanagan Valley. Habitat loss and degradation by urbanization and agricultural activities is the primary threat to the species. Road kill and human persecution are also significant threats.

The Pacific gophersnake is a closely related subspecies of the Great Basin gophersnake, and is sadly extirpated from southwestern BC. This snake used to be found in the lower Fraser Valley and adjacent Gulf Islands, but it has not been seen in the province since 1957. The loss of native grasslands to urbanization and direct human persecution -- they were often mistaken for rattlesnakes -- likely explain why they are gone from the province.

The Western rattlesnake, federally listed as threatened and blue-listed in BC, is the one snake everybody knows in the province. It is the only dangerously venomous snake in BC, and it lives in the dry interior valleys of the Okanagan, Thompson and Lillooet areas. Habitat loss and fragmentation due to urban and agricultural development, roadkill, and human persecution are the major threats.

The rubber boa, federally listed as special concern and yellow-listed in BC, is a small snake and the only boa native to Canada. It is easily identified by its rubbery appearance and broad, blunt tail. This boa is patchily distributed from the southern third of British Columbia south to California. They are long-lived, do not reproduce every year, and their population is believed to be small, which makes them very vulnerable to any increases in mortality rates. As with other snake species, habitat loss and fragmentation to forestry, agriculture and urban development activities, as well as roadkill and human persecution are the major threats to the survival of the rubber boa.

Snakes. Why Did it Have to Be Snakes?

"Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?" Indiana Jones asked. Throughout the Year of the Snake, the Wilderness Committee will bring you profiles and stories of the remarkable snakes we have in British Columbia, why it is worth protecting them, and yes, why we have to have snakes in our province.

-- Isabelle Groc for the Wilderness Committee

Ways You can Help Snakes and BC's Species at Risk:

Take action and sign a petition to ask for endangered species legislation.

Support the Wilderness Committee's species at risk campaign: adopt a species at risk or purchase a BC species gift package.

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