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As heat rises, so do snakes

Officials advise on how to stay safe when crossing paths with rattlesnakes

Posted: June 15, 2014 9:41 p.m.
Updated: June 15, 2014 9:41 p.m.

One of the three live Southern Pacific rattlesnakes on display at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center.

 

With school out and outdoor activities beckoning, Santa Clarita Valley residents may find unwelcome guests at their backyard barbecues or birthday parties in the park: rattlesnakes.

“Once the temperatures hit the 90-degree mark, they start to come out of hibernation and then we start hearing of sightings,” said Russell Kimora, regional park superintendant of Placerita Canyon Nature Center and Natural Area.

“As the temperature goes up, the more calls we receive,” said Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station Deputy Josh Dubin. “The weather really dictates how many calls we get, and since it’s getting hotter earlier, we are seeing more calls than usual” earlier in the year, Dubin said.

Everyone agrees the venomous native species is best avoided if possible. Hikers are urged to know what rattlesnakes look and sound like, and to avoid areas they’re likely to be encountered — down holes in the ground, around rocks or underbrush in the wild, under or inside of a tree stump.

Whatever you do, experts say, don’t antagonize one if you do encounter it — back off and take a different route.

But what if the snake is on your territory — in your backyard?

Experts can differ on the correct response. Kimora says a resident who knows what he’s doing around snakes should get the reptile into a bucket with a lid on it and relocate it to another area.

Derek Brown, deputy director of shelter operations for L.A. County Animal Care and Control, has different advice.

“First, get your children and pets inside the house. Keep anyone in your backyard from going near the snake,” Brown advised.

“Once everyone is inside, call L.A. (County) Animal Control and wait for one of our officers to arrive. While you’re waiting, try to keep an eye on where the snake is — but do it from a safe distance.

“Don’t go near the snake, and certainly don’t touch it. Rattlesnakes are defensive creatures. They are not going to disturb you if you don’t disturb them,” Brown said.

Many resident, however, call the Sheriff’s Department on such occasions.

As to keeping the native critters out of the yard, Brown says that’s difficult “because you’re in the snakes’ environment. But there are several things you can do.

“Eliminating the snakes’ food source, which is rodents. Rodent control will help to keep them off your property. Get rid of any standing water on your property and trim your vegetation so it’s not covering any walkways or paths.

“Keep the vegetation a good several feet trimmed back from any perimeter fence as well.”

Snake fencing is available for commercial and residential use. Earlier this year, the William S. Hart Union High School District installed snake fencing at Golden Valley and West Ranch high schools and at and Rancho Pico Junior High School.

While some experts question the effectiveness of snake fencing, district spokeswoman Gail Pinsker says it has helped at the three schools.

“We have only had one rattlesnake by the field this year, compared to 11 last year,” said West Ranch baseball coach Casey Burrill. “We have seen a few (snakes) on the other side of the fence. We think the snake fencing has been a huge success, and the parents appreciate the added level of safety for the boys.”

In the event a resident is bitten by a rattlesnake, he or she needs to remain calm and act immediately, said Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital emergency room physician Dr. Oliver Sahagun.

“Call 911 or get to the closest emergency room,” Sahagun said. Henry Mayo treats about five to 10 snake bites a year, but not all of them are from rattlesnakes and not all rattlesnake bites contain venom.

“First, we access the wound to determine whether or not an actual bite occurred. Sometimes, the snake will bite but not inject any venom — that is known as a dry bite.

“Once we’ve determined a bite has occurred, we find out when the bite occurred, what was the size of the snake, and what are the patient’s symptoms. Symptoms usually include localized pain, redness, and swelling at the bite.

“That pain can also extend from the extremity where the bite occurred toward the heart. Other symptoms can occur as well, such as dizziness, sweating and a metallic taste in the mouth.”

Doctors at Henry Mayo use an anti-venom drug called CroFab on venomous rattlesnake bites, Sahagun said.

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