Arizona Public Radio | Your Source for NPR News
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Earth Notes: What Does it Take to Safely Handle a Snake?

Erika Nowak’s students start with handling a non-venomous gophersnake before moving on to rattlesnakes.
NAU Communications
Erika Nowak’s students start with handling a non-venomous gopher snake before moving on to rattlesnakes.

Rattlesnakes prefer to stay away from people. But they can be attracted to habitat humans provide, like cozy nooks near or inside buildings. They sometimes find handy places to hide close to popular hiking trails too.

When rattlesnakes do take up residence close to homes, law enforcement or the fire department are often called in to remove them. At State and National Parks, rangers are called on to perform the tricky task.

Over half of venomous snake bites in the U.S. occur due to improper handling or attempts to kill rattlesnakes. So, learning how to safely deal with these animals is important.

That’s why Northern Arizona University biologist Erika Nowak has pioneered courses to teach the very specific skills required – with hands-on experience. Participants first learn about normal rattlesnake behavior and biology - with some myth-busting to dispel common misunderstandings. For example, rattlesnakes don’t always rattle before striking.

Then students are taught how to quickly assess best handling practices under different scenarios, before getting to practice the techniques on live animals... under Nowak’s close supervision.

Most people who take the course say it helped them conquer irrational fears about rattlesnakes – and even develop an appreciation for them.

Before they leave, each trainee is encouraged to come up with their own ‘elevator pitch’ to help pass on that new-found appreciation of these enigmatic creatures, which form a vital part of Arizona’s ecology and natural heritage.

This Earth Note was written by Diane Hope and produced by KNAU and the Sustainable Communities Program at Northern Arizona University.

Diane Hope, Ph.D., is a former ecologist and environmental scientist turned audio producer, sound recordist and writer. Originally from northern England, she has spent much of the last 25 years in Arizona and has been contributing scripts to Earth Notes for 15 years.
Related Content