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Ventura County

Rattlers Out of Hibernation, Public Gets a Wake-Up Call

Wildlife: Officials warn homeowners and hikers to watch their step. The snakes may be venturing farther from the wilderness for water.


Hikers, spring cleaners and pet owners in Ventura County, beware: Rattlesnakes are on the move.

With protection of people, pets and the poisonous snakes as their goal, county fire and animal control officials are warning residents to be alert for the striped rattler with the triangular head and venomous bite.

"They are looking for water and they are looking for cool places," said Sandi Wells, spokeswoman for the Ventura County Fire Department. "You just don't want to startle them. That could cause them to strike. Be respectful of the fact that there is a probability they are there."

Warnings about the snakes' rise from hibernation are a rite of April in Ventura County, but this year residents and hikers need to take extra care when venturing outdoors, experts say.

The lack of rainfall for Ventura County--70% less than normal for many locations-- means the snakes could venture farther from the wild in search of water.

"We have been seeing them in Ojai for the last month or so," said Kathy Jenks, director of the Ventura County Department of Animal Regulation. "But when you live in Ojai you get used to them. They aren't looking to hurt us."

No snakebites have been reported in Ventura County this year.

A year ago, a Thousand Oaks man was bitten after grabbing a rattler on a neighbor's driveway and trying to fling it away. In January 2001, a 9-year-old Westlake Village boy was bitten while retrieving a ball from the brush.

Ideally, the return of the snakes from hibernation would only be bad news for rats, gophers and rabbits, said Patrick Musone, a senior field officer for the Department of Animal Regulation.

But in Ventura County, with its miles of hiking trails and homes backing up to open land, rodents aren't the only ones at risk, he said.

Musone said people hiking in the county's hills should be cautious, but not afraid of southern Pacific rattlers, which are the only poisonous snakes native to the area.

"If they are out there, then avoid them," Musone said. "But you need to know you will most likely see them, and they are very important to the environment."

Musone said the rattlers are the chief predator of small rodents. He recommended wearing loose-fitting long pants and hiking boots when on trails and, whenever possible, hiking with a friend.

Animal experts say the rattlesnake will not strike unless provoked. To avoid attracting the rattlers to buildings, experts recommend that homeowners repair leaky outdoor faucets that draw thirsty snakes and store trash under tight-fitting lids.

"Don't touch [the snake] or go after it," said Wells of the county Fire Department. "Call us or call the animal regulation department."

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