Animal Services Gets Snake Savvy

The County animal shelter on Gaines Street took on a slithery aura recently as veteran animal control officers and new recruits expanded their knowledge of snakes.

The San Diego Herpetological Society holds monthly training meetings at the shelter and this presentation by Carl Person of Loma Linda University featured venomous snakes and venom medicine.

Due to the nature of the training, the Society asked if it was OK to bring the venomous reptiles to the facility. The shelter gave permission and in return asked if some of their folks could attend. They certainly got an eyeful.     

The reptile visitors were a red diamond rattlesnake, a cottonmouth, a Gaboon viper, black Pakistan cobra, taipan, and a stiletto snake (whose fangs come out the side of its mouth).  Person, an authority on venomous snakes, described each snake and how its venom would affect a bite victim.  And he should know—he has been bitten six times in his lifelong career with venomous snakes. 

The audience kept a very safe distance as Person removed each snake from its plastic carrier. They looked on in awe as he tapped the back of the cobra to get it to hiss and expand its hood. 

There is an upside to all that poisonous venom however. Person discussed the myriad of human drugs that have been created using of snake venom. Do you know anyone who has had diabetes, liver disease, a stroke or thrombosis? If so, that individual was probably treated with drugs originally derived from venom (but are now manufactured in laboratories). 

The training was a great success and Animal Services is hoping to bring Mr. Person back next year for its Animal Law Enforcement Academy. While animal control officers deal with rattlesnakes on a regular basis, they don’t usually see the reptiles which were featured at this presentation. However, these venomous snakes can be easily purchased in other parts of the country and sometimes “pet” reptiles end up in our neighborhoods or parks. If that happens, our Animal Services officers now know a little more about handling the dangerous snakes.