SNAKES MATTER TOO!
The Venomous Snake Response Team is a statewide group of volunteers dedicated to protecting and safely removing snakes while dispelling myths about them. Though the team is focused on the two venomous species found in New Jersey, the timber rattlesnake and the northern copperhead, it also responds to other snake related calls especially those concerning the northern pine snake, corn snake and eastern chain kingsnake.
Perhaps one of the most historical things associated with snakes is the irrational fear of them. The thought of snakes as being killers or slimy weasels has been forced into human culture for what seems like forever and at this point, many still consider them downright evil. Of course, none of that could be any further from the truth and snakes benefit not only the environment immensely but they also benefit us as well. Aside from turtles and tortoises, Chris Leone always held an interest and respect for snakes, specifically those from New Jersey so there was no hesitation in joining the state's venomous snake response team. After being trained by state principle biologist Kris Schantz with a live male timber rattlesnake comically named "Mr. Happy", he became a member of the team in 2019, able to legally handle, capture and release this endangered species. Calls generally come in from fearful home or property owners that have spotted a rattlesnake on their premises and although most are eager to cooperate, some are irate and may even threaten to kill the snake. Harassing a rattlesnake without permission from the state's division of fish and wildlife is highly illegal and so is killing one. It can be a race against time to get to a location to save the snake before something terrible happens to it. In several cases the snake is not even venomous and has been misidentified by the caller. The team also responds to other snake calls and takes particular interest in the state threatened northern pine snake (Pituophis melanoleucus), the eastern chain kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula getula) a species of special concern, and the state endangered corn snake (Pantherophis guttatus).
If a rattlesnake is found, it is safely and humanely captured for relocation. Although timber rattlers are in fact venomous, they do not want to bite and typically give ample warning to an intruder. Most who are bitten simply pushed their luck and did not heed the snake's warnings. Timbers must be relocated nearby and immediately so as to not disturb their marriage to their small home range and to lessen any interference with the strict annual cycle they follow. Team members wear appropriate boots and clothing and use sufficient snake hooks in order to securely handle them during capture. Never attempt to bother, move or handle a rattlesnake without professional help from the VSRT. Like all snake species, rattlers and copperheads hold a significant role in their ecosystems. They are beautiful, peaceful animals only exhibiting aggression when being teased or harassed. They deserve space and our utmost respect.
If you suspect a snake on your property is a rattlesnake or a copperhead and is in need of relocation, call the DEP Endangered and Nongame Species Program’s northern region office at (908) 638-4381 or (908) 638-4127, or the southern region office at (609) 628-2103. After hours and on weekends call (877) WARN-DEP.