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Disposable Herps? (long)

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Posted by Cary Thomas on October 17, 1999 at 10:10:26:

I found this story in the Albuquerque Journal Newspaper today, Sunday Oct 17th.
The Story is by Jim Belshaw of the Journal.

Snake Sympathy Hard To Come By

If somebody had chucked 137 puppies into the dumpster behind the Rio Grande Travel Market & Cruise Center on Wyoming Boulevard NE, this story would be on the front page, soon to be followed by outraged letters to the editor, hundreds of offers to find homes for the abandoned darlings and calls from CNN, MSNBC, People, Time, Newsweek, British tabloids and Oprah (if she could break away from the campaign trail).

But nobody dumped 137 puppies. Somebody did, however, dump 137 snakes – and unless you’re a herpetologist, snakes and puppies don’t do well in the synonymous department. ”I understand,” said New Mexico Game and Fish herpetologist Charlie Painter. ”But we look at them as if they’re puppies. They’re in our psyche.” Wednesday afternoon, they were in the Dumpster.

Somebody from Raley’s behind us came in and said, ‘Did you know theres a box of snakes in your dumpster?’ ” Kelly Eagle of Rio Grande Travel said.

A landscape maintenance man was tossing trimmings in the Dumpster when he noticed a nice- looking plastic box, the kind a guy might use to store all kinds of stuff in his garage. He pulled the box out.

It was taped shut and labeled – ”SNAKES.”

He opened it.

Remember that great scene in ”Raiders of the Lost Ark” when Indiana Jones is trapped on the floor covered with snakes? The maintenance guy decided he didn’t need to re-enact it, so he went to Raley’s, which sent someone to Rio Grande Travel.

”The guy from Raley’s said, ’It’s your Dumpster. You do something about it,’ ” Kelly Eagle said. ”I called the police. They said call animal control. Animal control said it didn’t do Dumpsters. They told me to call Wildlife Rescue. They said we don’t do snakes. So I called the zoo. They said we don’t have any place to put them. I was thinking nobody in this whole city wants our snakes.”

Thus we arrive at the difference between 137 snakes and 137 puppies.

Another Rio Grande Travel employee called Game and Fish.

Thamnophis elegans

”You get these calls and you don’t know what to think,” Game and Fish public information officer Chris Chadwick said. ”I’ve had people call and say, ’I’ve got a bear down here,’ and we’ll go out and see a Chow sitting under a tree. So when this woman said ’hundreds’ of snakes, I thought, OK there’ll be a few snakes. But she was pretty close in her estimate.”

They were ”wandering garter” snakes (Thamnophis elegans). There were 55 females and 82 males, ranging in size from 10 inches to 32 inches.

No one knows who dumped them or why.

They’re in Charlie Painter’s Santa Fe office now. The herpetologist said they faced a long, slow death in the Dumpster.

”It would have taken those snakes weeks to die in there,” he said. ”It was a pretty inhumane thing to do. For somebody to do that is inexcusable. For somebody to put that many snakes, or that many anything, in a box and tape it up and put it in a Dumpster is a crime against nature in my view. There are a lot of people who don’t particularly like snakes, but they realize their role in the environment and also realize they’re living things that should be respected as any other thing should be.”

He said he’ll turn them loose somewhere. It’s not the best solution, but at this point he doesn’t know what else to do.

He said he has never come across a problem like this one before, though it’s not the first snake call he has taken.

”I usually can convince people that it’s pretty cool to have these snakes in their back yard,” he said. ”I had one lady who had a large hibernacula (place of hibernation) in the base of a tree. I convinced her that the snakes were harmless and good for the ecosystem She ended up liking those snakes and called me for years to tell me they’d come back.”

Just like puppies once you get to know them.

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