Tuesday, February 27, 2024

NJ Venomous Snake Response Team Trains for Another Season

If you suspect a snake on your property is a rattlesnake or a copperhead and is in need of relocation, call the DEP Endangered and Nongame Species Program’s northern region office at (908) 638-4381 or (908) 638-4127, or the southern region office at (609) 628-2103. After hours and on weekends call (877) WARN-DEP.

Blairstown’s Animal Control Officer (ACO). Scott Hendricks wants you to know –

Over the millenniums the same event takes place each year when the weather gets warmer and the days longer. It’s been happening since mankind walk the face of the earth – snakes come out of hibernation. When the snakes begin to move around in search of food and a mate, they encounter people. Many times, this happens on residential property or areas inhabited by people.

Many people have a fear of snakes and don’t want anything to do with them regardless of whether they are venomous or not. So, it is important for people to know that there are some 22 species of snakes found in New Jersey but only the Timber Rattler and Copperhead are venomous. The remaining are harmless to humans.

The Venomous Snake Response team is part of NJ Department of Environmental Protection and headed up by Kris Schantz. She has a volunteer team of more than 80 members across the State who are trained in the history, types, and snake understanding to educate residents and respond to calls that require relocating Timber Rattlers and Copperheads when called.

In the four Township area comprised of Blairstown, Knowlton, Frelinghuysen and Hardwick, Timber Rattlers inhabit the Kittatinny Ridge and the northern most part of the Highlands. The Copperheads inhabit the hilly forested areas of northern New Jersey.

Each year, Kris conducts classroom training focusing on proper snake identification, their habitat, reproductive activity, range, and life cycle. The focus is to enable the team members to help educate residents about all snakes and the benefit they bring to the ecosystems.

After the classroom sessions, the team members move to the field where they learn and
practice safe snake handling techniques. This includes both capture and release. When a person calls with a snake situation, the team member must be able to respond and handle the situation appropriately.

To develop these skills each member works with a Timber Rattler learning the
proper one and two hook lifts, placing it in a secure container for relocation and proper release. The paramount focus is safety for the team members and the snake. The snake is not injured during the training.

The last week of May, Kris and several team members met to train on safe capture and release. Each member had the appropriate safe gear on to ensure there were no accidents. This training session took place outdoors in the snake’s natural environment.

First, Kris releases the snake from its container and places it on the ground in front of the transport container. She explains the nuances of approaching the snake and proper techniques in capturing it in preparation to being placed in the transport container.

Each team member then has an opportunity to size up the snake to determine the optimal approach in preparation to lifting the snake. By placing a snake hook under the head of the rattler and sliding the second hook along its body, the team member is looking for the ‘balance point’ where they can safely lift the snake off the ground.

Once the snake is lifted off the ground, it is gently placed into the transport container. Care is given to ensure that the snake is gently lowered into the container and not injured in the process.

Once the snake is safely in the transport container, a secure lid with small ventilation holes will be secured on the container. The container is well marked indicating that there is a venomous snake inside.

Once at the release location, the lid is carefully removed making sure the snake is on the bottom of the container and not hiding along the top. As the container is slowly tipped over, it is gently rolled from side-to-side while lifting the back of the container as the team member walks backwards. The snake moves out of the container and into its new location away from people.

Blairstown Township Animal Control Officer Scott Hendricks, Member of the Venomous Snake Response Team. You can call or text Scott at 973-500-8319.