Working with Snakes at Refugio Herpetologico
Although it might not be a huge draw for most people, Costa Rica is home to some amazing snakes. Fer-de-lance, Neotropical Rattlesnake, Eyelash Viper, and Bushmaster all live in this beautiful country. It is the same year round warmth and tropical atmosphere tourists flock too that makes it an ideal habitat for snakes as well. While working at Refugio Herpetologico, Zach and I have had a chance to learn more about handling and caring for some of the most venomous snakes in the Americas. We have already had experience with some rattlesnake species, boas, coral snakes, cottonmouths; however, the fer-de lance was going to be a lot different than the slower snakes we had previously handled. Today, we had to clean all their holding areas.
First up was Zach with the Neotropical Rattlesnake. He places two containers on the ground, one with clean newspapers and another containing the rattlesnake. He took off both lids and with the snake-hook in hand, gently lifted the beautiful snake out of her enclosure and into the clean one. An important thing to remember when working with any snake it that it is always better to be relaxed; when you are relaxed the snake is much more relaxed as well. This snake made it very easy and Zach finished cleaning her previous enclosure and moved her to a new, clean enclosure.
Next snake to clean was the Terciopelo or Fer-de-lance, an extremely venomous snake that is the cause for the most envenomations here in Costa Rica. Neither Zach nor I had ever worked with this snake before and to show us how they move and what to be ready for, Rodolfo, our friend and founder of Refugio Herpetologico, took out the first terciopelo. He calmly slid the hook under the snake’s head, lifted, and placed it on the ground. Even the calm fer-de-lance was much more mobile than almost every rattlesnake I have ever handled. Any time they are touched with the hook they move, it just depends on how much. A calm terciopelo might move only slightly while a agro or stimulated one would be all over the place. This is the reason for being calm, especially with a species such as the fer-de-lance, when they are calm it is much easier to work with. After carefully watching Rodolfo handle this snake I felt pretty comfortable handling the next one. So, I took down the next terciopelo after cleaning a new enclosure for her. I opened the lid and she slithered out. Then I hooked her about a third down her body and tried to maneuver her into the cleaner box. As usual with more active snakes she did not want to go back in the box; it took several minutes of careful handling to finally move her into the next container, but, in the end it was a successful move!
The Neotropical Rattlesnake and the Fer-de-lance were the highlight of that handling session, but there were some other interesting snakes we got to work with as well. Some of the others included several non-venomous snakes such as a boas, racers, and several others. Even though most of them were non-venomous, each one presented it’s own challenge whether it was a small really fast snake or a big boa that you would not want to get bitten by. It was a great time and we both really learned a lot about working with new species of snakes. However, Rodolfo had one more snake for us to work with, the Bushmaster, the most venomous snake in the Americas!
Finally, after almost 2 weeks at the refuge we get to work with the Bushmaster! The Bushmaster we would handle was around 2 1/2 ft. It’s pretty hard to decide who gets to handle a snake first, but somehow I lucked out. This time, we were taking photos in a natural looking environment for the website of the Refuge. I maneuvered her into positions for the pictures, the whole time Rodolfo teaching Zach and I how to make it easier for ourselves and the snake. After Zach had some good pictures he took the hook and worked with her. Then, a few minutes later we got the call that dinner was ready, and as we were all hungry we jumped on that, put the beautiful Bushmaster away and went to eat. It was a GREAT day!
* Remember snakes are beautiful animals and each have their own personalities that are easy to see once you work with them long enough. This along with their vital part in nature makes it even more of a tragedy when they are killed out of hate. Please, if you are one of those people that hate snakes, try to understand them. Look at a photo of an eyelash viper or a emerald tree boa; understand their place in the world. Maybe you will learn something and have a little more love in the world for one of our beautiful animals that share this earth with us.