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Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton

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Camp Pendleton’s Game Warden’s Office conducts research on rattlesnakes

By Lance Cpl. Broc Story | Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton | June 13, 2020


Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton’s Game Warden’s Office recently conducted an extensive study into the rattlesnake species that live on the installation.

Since the study began in March of 2016, the methods that are used have evolved and allowed for a better understanding of these potentially dangerous creatures. Through the continued research of these animals, the Game Warden’s Resource Enforcement and Compliance Section can ensure the safety of the snakes, as well as the safety of base residents.

“Before I started, we didn’t know anything except where we were capturing them and how many: approximately 140 Southern Pacific and 30 Red Diamond annually,” stated Nathaniel Redeztke, a wildlife technician with the Game Warden’s Resource Enforcement and Compliance Section. “We needed to understand what impact, whether positive or negative, our actions were having on these animals, especially with Red Diamond rattlesnakes being a Species of Special Concern in California and the importance of rattlesnakes in the ecosystem overall.”

While these snakes are studied, they receive two forms of behavior tests: defensive and exploration. Their overall weight, length, sex, and age are also recorded.

Implementation of two tracking technologies has aided the Resource Enforcement Compliance Section in their research. These two devices enable different types of information to be collected from the rattlesnakes.

“Using passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags, much like microchips for pets, implanted underneath the skin, we can determine if individuals have been captured before,” stated Redeztke.

While this device is limited on its own, the second device implanted on the animals allows game wardens to collect more data.

“In order to physically track individuals, I surgically implanted a very high frequency (VHF) radio transmitter into the peritoneal cavity of the snake and fed a whip antenna under its skin,” stated Redeztke.

After the devices are implanted, the animals are released into the environment, which allows members of the study to track rattlesnake movements. Once the survey has run its course, the snakes are then recaptured to have the PIT tags and VHF radio transmitters removed. The last electronics were removed in March of 2020.

“I implanted PIT tags into 450 Southern Pacific rattlesnakes. Of those, only 8 of them were recaptured due to repeated conflict with humans, but none of them were recaptured in the same area,” stated Redeztke. “This means that the chances of that snake being a potential danger to anyone is less than 2%, and the chances of you ever seeing that snake again is highly unlikely.”

Results found from the other species of rattlesnake studied, the Red Diamond, were slightly higher than the information collected on the Southern Pacific.

“Of the 85 individuals that were implanted with PIT tags, 6 of them were recaptured due to repeated conflict with humans,” stated Redeztke. “Three of those individuals were either recaptured or tracked back to their original capture site.”

Redezkte explained that this percentage, seven percent, although higher than the Southern Pacific rattlesnakes, still indicates a low potential danger from those individual specimens.

By conducting studies like these and gathering this kind of information, game wardens help Marines to train while cohabiting with the wildlife in the environment. Understanding the habits of these snakes makes base personnel better stewards of the environment.

“Safety of Marines in the field and safety of their families in their homes is of the utmost importance to the Marine Corps,” stated Redezkte. “However, this is the rattlesnake’s home as well.”

Euthanizing rattlesnakes is standard practice throughout the United States when the animals come into contact with humans. This practice can lead to negative consequences throughout the ecosystem.

“By conducting a study like this, we can not only defend our management protocol to relocate instead of euthanizing rattlesnakes, but we can also assure Marines that they and their families will likely be safe from these animals,” stated Redezkte.

Camp Pendleton’s game wardens work diligently to ensure the protection of wildlife on base and rattlesnakes are no exception. Protecting these snakes maintains a balanced ecosystem that helps other populations to thrive.

“The more we understand about these species enhances our ability to educate and train our military personnel to handle situations when coming into contact with these, or similar, species during training ops, serving overseas, or in the privacy of their own home,” stated Redezkte.

If a rattlesnake is affecting work or training safety, contact the Game Warden’s Office at 760-725-3360 to resolve the situation. If the snake can be positively identified as non-venomous from a safe distance, there is no need to contact the Game Warden’s Office