GRAHAM COUNTY — St. Patrick may have driven all the snakes out of Ireland, but for residents in southeast Arizona, an option to rid themselves of a venomous visitor is to call the Reptilist, also known as Terry A. Johnson.
As the warming weather encourages more outdoor activity, the chances of people having an interaction with a venomous snake, especially the common Western Diamondback rattlesnake, increase exponentially as the hibernating snakes begin to awaken as well.
Johnson has been relocating rattlesnakes for years. He is licensed with the necessary permits to exhibit venomous snakes educationally, as well as safely capturing and relocating all nuisance reptiles in a humane fashion. He offers free venomous snake relocations (but will happily accept a donation for the service) and can be reached by phone at 965-5147 and e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Johnson can also be contacted on his Facebook page at Facebook.com/reptilist.
He recommends people avoid contact with rattlesnakes if possible.
"People handle it themselves most of the time meaning they took a shovel to it," Johnson said. "I like to present some other options besides going to war with an animal that could fight back . . . My advice is to just leave them alone. That's the safest thing to do."
If the snake remains a nuisance or poses a risk to animals or children, local exterminator services will take care of the situation for a fee.
Arizona has more species of rattlesnakes (13) than any other state, with six of them found in Graham County. The local species include the Western Diamondback, Mojave, Northern Black Tailed, Arizona Black, Prairie and the Twin Spotted, which is found on Mount Graham.
Graham County also has two other venomous reptiles; the Gila Monster and the Arizona Coral snake. Gila Monster lizards are a restricted species that may not be caught, kept, killed or harassed. Western Diamondback snakebites are the most common in Arizona, and it has the dubious reputation as having the most human fatalities recorded in the southwest.
Recently, a person was treated at the Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center for a rattlesnake bite. Last year, there were 270 reported rattlesnake bites throughout the state with 116 of them occurring in Maricopa County alone.
In addition to the single bite in April, MGRMC has only scene two snakebites since November 1. Those numbers are expected to go up as with the heat, but the hospital is well stocked with anti-venom, according to spokesperson Ryan Rapier.
"If you get a snake bite and you come to our Emergency Room we can treat the snake bite and provide the anti-venom necessary," Rapier said.
Most rattlesnake bites are accidental with the snakes biting out of fear, according to Johnson. Some of the more dangerous bites occur when young snakes are encountered during gardening. The young snakes are small and harder to see than their adult counterparts and frequently expel all of their venom.
"They're so little and you can't really hear them, and they can still pack enough venom to put you in the hospital," Johnson said.
While fatalities from rattlesnake bites are rare – only four reported fatalities in Arizona from 1,912 bites during a 10-year period – those who are bitten should seek immediate medical attention. Outdated information and former first-aid rattlesnake bite kits that refer to cutting and attempting to suck out the venom have been debunked. Johnson recommends having help come to your location if possible.
What to do if bit
• Keep calm and don't panic. Call for help.
• Restrict movement and keep the affected area below heart level if possible to reduce the flow of venom.
• Remove any rings or constricting items because the affected area may swell.
• Avoid areas where snakes may be hiding, such as under rocks and logs.
• Don't provoke a snake.
• When hiking in an area known to have snakes, wear long pants and boots if possible.
• Tap ahead of you with a walking stick before entering an area where you can't see your feet. Snakes will try to avoid you if given enough warning.
source: U.S. National Library of Medicine