The likelihood of being bitten by a poisonous snake is far greater in Costa Rica than here in the Okanagan.
In that country, where a BC man was bitten last week, such snakes are commonplace.
But according to Dr. David Shaw with South Okanagan General Hospital in Oliver, snake bites are not unheard of here.
“We probably average four per summer that have to be seen at the hospital and treated,” he said.
Western rattlesnakes are the only poisonous snakes in the region and the further south you go in the Okanagan there is a greater likelihood of seeing them.
Most often the bites are on young males who have been drinking and playing with the snakes.
These mischief bites are typically on the hands, whereas accidental bites are on the lower limbs if people happen to step on the reptiles.
The bites tend to be defensive, because the snakes are typically not interested in wasting their venom on something not in their food chain.
The snakes also play a positive role in keeping the population of moles, mice and other small rodents down.
Hospitals in Oliver, Penticton and Kelowna have a good supply of anti venom, and if bitten Shaw advises not to panic or self-medicate and go straight to a hospital.
Shaw has lectured on the subject up and down the valley and education on the snakes is provided at such places as the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre in Osoyoos. The centre tracks the snakes using passive integrated transponders and educates guests and other people in the area.
“When tourists come here, we educate them about rattlesnakes and the cautions you should take,” said Charlotte Stringam, manager of the centre. “The snakes are a shy species, and there is nothing to be fearful about. A rattlesnake bite is not going to kill you.”
Snake sightings are more common in the hot summer months. Shaw advises if you are walking in their habitat to wear protective clothing because the snakes won’t bite through hiking boots and jeans, and to be aware of where you put your hands when climbing.
And if you hear a rattle, slowly back away. A snake will not chase, because avoidance is their main thing.