By Justin Seward
Sheri Monk created her Snakes on a Plain business earlier this year to provide education, safety, and conservation of the reptile in southern Alberta.
Monk, who is based out of Redcliff, provides services such as snake fencing, risk assessment, rattlesnake seminars, spider ID, and removal of both those animals in the region.
“It just started this year because I recently moved to Redcliff from Pincher Creek,” said Monk.
“I guess prior to that I had been involved with rattlesnakes and learning about them and it’s originally why I moved out west from Winnipeg.”
When Monk arrived in Alberta, she knew work needed to be done to reduce the incidents of human and wildlife conflict, an area she hopes Snakes on a Plain will help with.
The type of fencing that is used is a “galvanized steel mesh placed over an existing fence and you use it around the gates and any conceivable place a snake can get into your yard, and it’s a tight enough mesh the babies can’t get through” said Monk.
Monk has had people phoning her that are really afraid of snakes and she will come and do a risk assessment on their yard.
“It kind of came up with a point system that either puts them into low, medium, or high risk and a lot of people are completely low risk,” said Monk.
“In those cases, they don’t need to think about snake fencing. But they feel good to hear about this is why you’re a low risk, you’re not close to any known activity (and) dens.”
She wants to remind people snakes will not chase humans, as they have no interest in eating us and when they see us, they’re more afraid of humans.
The crew also builds “catios” — a safe, enclosed play space for cats.
“A lot of what I end up doing is myth busting,” she said.
“There are a lot of perceptions you’ll hear about baby rattlesnakes are more dangerous or Canadian rattlesnakes aren’t dangerous at all. The species we have here goes all the way down and a strip into the United States and (into) northern Mexico. In this case, there is no such thing as the nice, polite Canadian rattlesnake.”
Monk says rattlesnake bites are rare, but can be fatal when it occurs.
“People have lived here with rattlesnakes, bull snakes, and all the other snakes we have here for a really long time,” said Monk.
“We’ve had a lot of luck being able to live peacefully with them. But, if I can do anything to assist people to be happier around snakes and to assist snakes to be able to live longer lives, that would make me really happy because they’re a pretty cool animal.”
Locally, there is the Prairie Rattlesnake, bull snakes, two species of garter snakes, and the Western Hog Nose snake.
“They’re protected, so we can’t keep them as pets,” she said of the risks.
“We can’t harm or harass them and we have building or development setbacks from their denning areas. They are really vulnerable.”
Monk noted snakes reproduce every second or third year while most of the young don’t survive.
Snakes have a really short season, as they spend six months underground and in the half-year they have to be able to find food.
“It’s been tough to say,” she said, on the snake population decreasing. “We’ve done population surveys. But it’s hard to check the dens every year. It’s basically a species of special concern. Some people would want to make the case they’re declining. They seem to be somewhat stable. But every time we put in a highway or there’s more residential development and we get the urban sprawl, we see mortality in those areas.”
She has done some training for the Medicine Hat parks staff and local bylaw officers last year.
Training is also available for industries too.
“I’ve travelled so much to the United States because they have so much more rattlesnake diversity. Honestly, the attitude difference between Canadians is incredible. So here you get people that are like ‘Yeah, I’m a little scared of them, but also they’re interesting, or I don’t really like them but I’m glad you do or I’m afraid of them, but I know they have their place,’” she said.
“In the U.S., it’s nothing to find headless rattlesnakes.”
More information can be found at http://www.snakesonaplain.ca or on Facebook.