Coexisting with Pitvipers Symposium

at Biology of Pitvipers 4
Rodeo, New Mexico, USA

6:00 – 8:30 pm
Friday 15 July 2022

A female Western Black-tailed Rattlesnake (yellow rattlesnake with dark brown blotches), hunts against a rock on the steps leading to the front door.
Porter, female Western Black-tailed Rattlesnake, hunts against a rock on the steps leading to the front door.

Education and outreach are essential components of any conservation program, especially for those working with maligned, misunderstood animals that pose a potential threat to the public. As lifelong pitviper enthusiasts, it may be difficult to relate to snake-averse people. However, we often find ourselves interacting with the public and want to be effective advocates. This forum will facilitate a discussion about this important, and often overlooked, aspect of conservation.

What to Expect at the Symposium:

Effective Outreach Brainstorm

After a brief welcome and introduction, we’ll start our evening with a brainstorming session where participants contribute to a list of effective outreach practices. We encourage everyone to bring a local-to-you libation of choice (e.g., beer, wine, spirits, kombucha) for a beverage exchange – please also bring your own cup. We’ll share beverages while we learn together how to be the most effective pitviper advocates.

Improving Perceptions of Rattlesnakes with Conservation Message Framing

A presentation by Erin Allison on a recent study testing the efficacy of different types of messaging on changing attitudes toward rattlesnakes.

Panel Discussion

Dr. Emily Taylor will moderate a discussion with people who have extensive experience with various forms of outreach about pitvipers. Confirmed panelists include:

Melissa Amarello, Executive Director, ASP

Melissa received her B.S. in wildlife, watershed, and rangeland resources at the University of Arizona (2005) and her M.S. in biology at Arizona State University (2012), where she studied rattlesnake social behavior. After witnessing how negative attitudes can stifle conservation efforts, she incorporated education and outreach into her research to foster appreciation for snakes by sharing stories and videos of their behavior in the wild. In the spring of 2014 she co-founded Advocates for Snake Preservation (ASP) with Jeff Smith to change how people view and treat snakes. In 2017 they received the Jarchow Conservation Award for commitment and creativity in studying snake behaviors and tireless and continuous efforts to use scientific knowledge to advocate for snake conservation through outreach and social activism. While promoting coexistence has always been part of ASP’s mission, over the past couple years it has become the primary focus of the organization through the development of online, offline, and local resources to reduce human-snake conflicts and make coexisting with venomous snakes safer.

Erika Nowak, PhD

Dr. Nowak is an Assistant Research Professor in the Center for Adaptable Western Landscapes and teaches in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She earned a BS in Wildlife Biology from Cornell University (1991), and a MS (1998) and a PhD in Biology (2009) from Northern Arizona University. As an internationally-recognized expert on viper ecology and management and member of the IUCN Viper Species Group, Dr. Nowak has conducted over 28 years of research with venomous reptiles, including effects of translocation on “nuisance” reptiles, predatory roles, trophic-level impacts of provisioning food and water to rattlesnake prey in human-developed areas, and using ecological data to predict threats from climate change. Her venomous reptile awareness and handling trainings, conducted for federal, state, municipal and private agencies, increase awareness and safety while decreasing ophidiophobia. Dr. Nowak and her students conduct inventories, bio/monitoring, and ecological studies of federally threatened narrow-headed and northern Mexican Gartersnakes, and are actively involved with research-based efforts to improve captive husbandry for Narrow-headed Gartersnakes and assisting in species recovery.

Bryan Hughes

Bryan Hughes is the owner of Rattlesnake Solutions, a rattlesnake-focused private conservation organization operating throughout Arizona. His group works with homeowners, businesses, and government agencies to solve situations where human development and rattlesnakes come into conflict. This includes improving outcomes of short-distance relocation of rattlesnakes, habitat and home-range modification, physical prevention, education, and research. In partnership with the Arizona Game and Fish Department and the City of Phoenix, he is currently conducting research to better understand urban-island rattlesnake populations and coexistence with rattlesnakes in fully-developed areas. His organization’s data, collected from conflict situations over 12 years, is available to universities and social scientists to examine the nature of human/rattlesnake conflict. Information from these projects will be used to improve the understanding of sustainable mitigation practices and communication with those who fear snakes. Every day he is engaged in conversation with people who fear snakes, often justifiably. His depth of “front line” experience drives his perspectives on coexistence with rattlesnakes and how to do so safely.

Maria Elena Barragán-Paladines

Bio coming soon!

William S. Brown, PhD

Bio coming soon!

The Guide to Coexisting With Pitvipers

At the end of the symposium, we will form a working group of participants interested in contributing to a guide on best practices for pitviper education and outreach to be published in an academic journal. This symposium is only the beginning of a collaboration to improve coexistence between people and pitvipers — we hope you’ll join us!


There is no additional charge to attend this symposium, but we’d like to get a head count so we have enough seats for everyone!

Registration is required for Biology of Pitvipers 4. Find out more about the conference and register at their website.

Biology of Pitvipers 4 logo featuring a white pitviper face on a green background with "Biology of Pitvipers 4 2022" written around it.