By Anna Smith
Alberta is home to six distinct species of snake, and for founder of Redcliff’s own Snakes on a Plain, Shari Monk, every single member of our limbless friends are worth studying and protecting.
While the organization itself started in 2020, Monk has been studying snakes for much longer, when her son first took an interest in spiders, which eventually spread to rattlesnakes.
“All of my recreation time since 2006, has been spent either looking for snakes or visiting den sites or traveling to other places in the world to see snakes, especially the United States because rattlesnakes are everywhere there,” said Monk. “I’ve been pretty much everywhere there is to be in the US to see rattlesnakes, and I’ve also been in Costa Rica and South America to study snakes and bugs. My favourite is the prairie rattlesnake, which of course, we have right here in Alberta and Saskatchewan.”
Monk initially hails from Winnipeg, where she was born, raised, and had a career in media alongside starting her family. However, once she became interested in rattlesnakes, she began vacationing here, before eventually deciding to take the leap and settle down in Redcliff, to be closer to her passion.
Since then, she’s started Snakes on a Plain, which aims to educate, advise, and protect, as well as help locate any serpents that might have made their way into areas that may be unsafe for them or the humans who encounter them, though Monk stresses that these species are not inherently aggressive.
“They’re really quite misunderstood. Part of that is because we knew about rattlesnakes, long before we had a better understanding of their biology. And for a long time, we didn’t necessarily incorporate the study of their intelligence, or their social intelligence when we were studying these animals,” said Monk. “So a lot of people have heard references to the reptilian brain, similar to references to bird brain, and both of those things indicated thinking that wasn’t considered intelligent.”
Rattlesnakes especially are shown to be intelligent creatures, who even have friends and social lives of their own, said Monk, and often know better than to waste their venom on anything too large to consume, as they require it for hunting; this is especially true up here in Alberta, where their feeding season is so limited.
Snakes on a Plain is licensed by the Alberta government to handle and relocate all snake species which occur in Alberta, including the prairie rattlesnake. They specialize in snake behaviour, habitat utilization, migration patterns, hibernacula survey and conflict avoidance.
“We offer the residents of Redcliff and Medicine Hat free emergency snake relocation when local bylaw is not available,” said Monk, who added she also offers presentations to educate both public and private groups about how to best engage with snakes, as well as being available for consultation for industry looking to make their sites safer.
“I’m really happy to do that as well. So that can be anything from snake activity or den surveys on land that may be developed one day, or it can be on site management, for instance, if there’s a build going on, and it’s migration time, or just in a snakey area, and then there’s snakes on people’s equipment or under their vehicles or need to be moved off the road,” said Monk. “It’s really great, I can pick up that kind of work.”
Anyone interested in learning more about Monk’s work, or about the snakes that Southeast Albertans share a home with, are encouraged to read more at snakesonaplain.ca.