Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Child Killed in Snake Shooting

As noted in The Post and Courier excerpt from yesterday's paper (see image), a 5-year-old child was killed in Oklahoma after a police officer shot at a snake in a tree.

This is a tragedy for many reasons. First and foremost, a young child is gone and the loss will weigh heavily on both the family and the police officer. Second, the accident was avoidable, since the snake in a tree was not an immediate danger to anyone. There was time to call animal control and have the snake safely removed if nearby residents insisted. Third, a snake in a tree in Oklahoma was not likely a venomous snake and therefore would not be a danger, immediate or otherwise, to humans. Fourth, even the most basic hunter/gun safety class points out that one must account for individuals or property down range from the target.

Snakes perform a vital role in ecosystems around the world. In the United States, an individual has a 1:10 million chance of dying from a snakebite. The vast majority of these bites are diamondback rattlesnakes with the vast majority of those being the western variety. Neither variety are likely to be up in a tree and neither are likely to bite unless provoked.

The King, the Mice and the Cheese by Nancy Gurney and Eric Gurney points out the folly and unintended consequences of removing an unwanted species from the the environment. In the story the king wanted the mice removed since they were eating his cheese. He had cats chase away all the mice, but then was unhappy with the behavior of the cats. The king had dogs chase away the cats, but then found the multitude of dogs to be an issue. After elephants called to remove the dogs began to destroy the palace, the king invited the mice to return to remove the elephants(because we all know how elephants hate mice) . The king and the mice then agreed to coexist.

Venomous snakes are certainly a danger to unwary pets and small children and should be safely removed from the area. However, every snake is not a danger warranting extermination!

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