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SNAKES ON LOOSE IN LOCAL BACK YARDS.

Byline: Lisa Mascaro Daily News Staff Writer

It's hot, sunny and time to eat for the rattlers, garters, gopher and king snakes breaking out of their winter slumber - and babies cracking their shells - across east Ventura County.

They slither across back yards, dip into pools and send a chill through residents like Camarillo mom Lynne Verbeck, who twice last week called for help removing adult gopher snakes from her back yard.

``We see snakes every summer,'' said Zack Greene, a college student whose Moorpark neighbors found a snake in the yard last week, too. ``They just come down from the hill, go in people's pools. You'll just see them. If you don't bother them, it's no big deal.''

Animal control regulators report nearly double the number of calls for service this season, thanks to winter's El Nino condition that has created ample homes for the rodents that snakes gobble up for food. Already, the agency has received 52 calls for service halfway through the season, which stretches from April to October, compared to 58 for the entire 1997 season.

But for every snake picked up and relocated to a less-developed area, almost as many end up with their heads chopped off by officials trying to keep residents from harm.

And that kind of wildlife destruction poses more of a threat to the environment than the critters themselves, say residents and others who want more consideration given to the snakes.

``We need to start protecting these animals and protecting the environment,'' said Patrick Musone, community education officer for the county Department of Animal Regulation. ``Natural enemies of rodents are animals we need to protect - coyotes, birds of prey and reptiles.''

The county is home to four main types of snakes, including the poisonous Southern Pacific rattler and the nonvenomous gopher, garter and king snakes. Most snakes are found in the east county communities of Simi Valley and Moorpark, officials said.

Though animal regulation responds to many calls for service, the Ventura County Fire Department is also sent out on many of the calls that come through the Emergency 911 system, police said.

When venomous snakes are found in the house or when time constraints prevent relocation, the animals are often killed rather than transported to a safer environment, officials said.

Plus, there are the occasional pet snakes let loose on city streets, like the 3-foot boa that stretched across the front entrance of the Mervyn's store in Simi Valley last week just before shoppers arrived at 9:30 a.m.

``We put it in one of the mesh bags we have for our shoppers,'' said store manager Lisa Pruss, who said city workers answered the 911 call and a bystander volunteered to take the critter to a local pet store. ``Hopefully, it found a home.''

Musone said encounters between residents and snakes are bound to be on the rise as the county continues to develop and residents take over areas that snakes have historically called home.

He encourages residents to learn the difference between poisonous snakes and nonvenomous types and try to coexist with those that pose no harm.

``We've moved right into where they belong,'' Musone said. ``We are going to see more, and people are going to have to learn more.''

Verbeck, a Camarillo mother of three, had six children playing in her back yard last week when what she said was a 6-foot-long gopher snake slithered through the yard.

Like most of her neighbors, who have taken to calling one of the local gopher snakes `Ralph,' she appreciates having the critters around to help manage the rodent population. But with a yard full of children at play and the snake on the move, something had to give.

``I think it was just the size of the snake that concerned me,'' said Verbeck, who was worried the youngsters would taunt the creature. ``If I didn't have my kids, I probably would have left it there.''

Her neighbor, Lorrie Dundas, said most residents try to coexist with the nonvenomous snakes, believing that allowing them in keeps the poisonous ones from coming around.

``Most of us like the snakes,'' said Dundas. ``I think everyone in this area is pretty much for the snakes; they like having them around.''

SNAKE-PROOFING YOUR HOME

Trim shrubs from the ground, remove stacks of wood, debris or trimmings where snakes can hide.

Eliminate standing water sources where snakes can cool off.

Keep doors closed and seal underground entryways to the home.

IF YOU ENCOUNTER A SNAKE

Move away, do not touch or provoke.

Call the Ventura County Department of Animal Regulation for help.

For snake bites, go immediately for emergency help. Wash the wound, try keeping a victim calm so blood can flow, and if possible suck out the venom. Do not cut the snake bite, use a tourniquet or ice pack.

Source: Ventura County Department of Animal Regulation

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 8, 1998
Words:822
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