If all goes well, adventurers may not have to travel to Brazil to visit Snake Island. State officials in Massachusetts are following a conservation plan that seeks to protect the Commonwealth’s endangered timber rattlesnakes by establishing a healthy population on a 1,350-acre uninhabited island. The largest island in the Quabbin Reservoir, Mount Zion is uniquely suited to host the snakes because of its isolation and protective habitats. Not surprisingly, the plan to resettle rattlesnakes is sending shivers up the spines of some local residents.
Only about 200 timber rattlesnakes still live in Massachusetts. While other species of indigenous fauna have seen increasing populations over the past several decades, the timber rattlesnake has suffered greatly over the same period. Ongoing habitat loss and death by humans threatens the species with extinction if action is not taken. Despite the apparent need for conservation, ophidiophobia is tough to overcome. “As a venomous snake, the Timber Rattlesnake certainly has the potential to be dangerous but the reality is that there has been no harm inflicted on the public by these reptiles,” says Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife project director Tom French. “Timber Rattlesnakes are generally mild in disposition and often rattle their tails to alert animals and people of their presence.”
Locals need not be concerned with a reptilian invasion of the mainland, says French. While timber rattlesnakes are competent swimmers, they require deep hibernation sites, such as a boulder field or deep fissure, to survive the brutal winter. Without adequate protection, these cold-blooded creatures will not easily establish themselves beyond the island.
The Mount Zion rattlesnakes will spend the first few years of their lives at the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, Rhode Island. Once they are mature, the snakes will be released onto the island and monitored for progress. The snake conservation plan has been in development for years and has the support of Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker. Even locals like Peter Mallett are coming around to the idea. “People are just petrified of snakes,” says Mallett. Still, he has faith that human beings and snakes can coexist peacefully.