Welcome to the Snake House

Here’s the final installment in our series of five inspiring stories to celebrate ASP’s fifth birthday (read them all here):

40 Rattlesnakes Discovered in Couple’s Shed!

Pile of Western Diamond-Backed Rattlesnakes in the Snake House
Pile of Western Diamond-Backed Rattlesnakes in the Snake House
Usually headlines like that are followed by a story detailing how miraculously no one was hurt before the snakes were inevitably removed or killed. This is not that story. But it did start out that way.

Initially, this couple wanted the rattlesnakes gone. As usual, that old strategy wasn’t a solution to the perceived problem: translocated snakes returned and new ones showed up. In rural Arizona, their lush yard offers food and water for wildlife (including snakes) and an old adobe structure used for storage provided the best overwintering den around for Western Diamond-Backed Rattlesnakes, what we would come to call the “Snake House.”

Nowadays snakes are only moved if they’re hanging around immediately outside the couples’ house, a hundred yards back to the Snake House. The homeowners have become snake stewards, greeting them when encountered and offering apologies to them when disturbed. In short, they treat rattlesnakes like the good neighbors they are. So what happened?

#EducationIsConservation isn’t just a hashtag. Our friend and colleague John has been working directly with this couple for years, since he was first called upon to solve their snake problem. Initially he convinced them to let him move, rather than kill, the snakes, and with each visit he’d teach them a bit more about their snake neighbors. Eventually he got permission to enter the Snake House each winter to count and identify its occupants while making improvements so that it is more snake-friendly and safer for people to access.

A Coachwhip and Western Diamond-Backed Rattlesnake in the Snake House
A Coachwhip and Western Diamond-Backed Rattlesnake in the Snake House
This story has a happy ending. What was once an unwanted infestation is now a source of pride. The owners of the Snake House permit John and us to monitor the comings and goings of snakes with cameras, and each winter during our annual count, invite friends to check out their snakes. During this festive event, we share stories and answer questions about rattlesnakes (and living with them) and everyone sees how timid and peaceful rattlesnakes are while learning more about them.

And we’re learning from the snakes too. Unlike our Arizona Black Rattlesnake dens, it’s a different group every year. Many repeat visitors (though they seem to rotate between this and other unknown dens), but always new faces too. And unlike other Western Diamond-Backed Rattlesnake dens we’ve monitored, several juveniles use the Snake House too, as well as other snake species including Mohave Rattlesnakes.

We’re in this for the long haul; changing how people view and treat snakes does not happen overnight, but it does happen. We know not everyone has the same capacity for giving. So today we’re only asking for $5 for 5 years of fostering compassion for and coexistence with snakes. We are grateful for your financial support and hope you will consider a monthly gift to help us continue these efforts in the years to come. If you can give more, that’s great! If you’ve already given or are helping us spread the word, THANK YOU SO MUCH; your support is crucial to our work! This is your last chance in 2019 to make a big difference with your gift.