Rescued gopher snake now ambassador in South Okanagan

Helping stop snake slayings

Chelsea Powrie

The newest team member at the Okanagan Similkameen Stewardship Society spends a lot of her time at the office eating, napping or hiding — talk about a cushy job. 

Nora is the society's new Sonoran gopher snake, confiscated from an owner in Kamloops who had her without a permit. 

She can't be released due to being a southern subspecies of the gopher snake, so Nora will be an ambassador for all snakes in the region, helping to break stigmas that lead to snakes being harmed or killed. 

"She's quite friendly," said stewardship biologist Lia McKinnon. "We decided she would be perfect as an education animal."

Nora will be the star of workshops and information sessions in the society's Snake Smart program, which has a specific interest in working with agricultural landowners and workers. 

"Some of the agricultural workers, particularly people who perhaps come from countries with more venomous snakes, more dangerous snakes and less legislation around protecting snakes ... sometimes people will kill snakes when they see them, which is not great," 

"Other times agricultural workers will just walk off the job for the day if they see a snake, 'There's a snake in there, I'm not going back there.'"

But most South Okanagan snakes aren't venomous, and even rattlesnakes rarely strike and are very shy. And having snakes around is a handy way to keep your rodent population in check. 

"Most of the time you won't see them, they are pretty shy, they are usually hiding," McKinnon explained. "Sometimes you'll find them in the evening or early mornings warming themselves up on rocks, but mostly they will be hiding."

The teaching sessions aim to show a that Nora and other snakes don't need to trigger fear.

Nora likes people, and wrapped her roughly four-foot long body around McKinnons arms when she was lifted from her enclosure. McKinnon says Nora's especially fond of pockets, and has been known to slither contentedly under staff members' collars for a cozy spot to hang out. 

The workshops will also touch on how to move a snake if necessary, both for the safety of the person and the animal. 

"You do have to be careful when moving snakes because they go back to the same place every winter to hibernate, and if you move them too far, they can't find their way back," McKinnon explained. 

To find out more about the Okanagan Similkameen Stewardship Society and to request information on how you can get involved, click here

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