W von Papinešu
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ARIZONA REPUBLIC (Phoenix) 21 October 10 Phoenix area city employees learn to manage snakes (D.S. Woodfill)
Daniel Marchand talks about the deadly rattlesnakes, cobras and other reptiles in his charge with the same fondness as a dog owner.
The curator and co-founder of the Phoenix Herpetological Society said he appreciates mammals, but reptiles have an appeal of their own.
"I love them just as much," he said. "My favorite reptile here is a 6-foot monitor lizard."
It's that love that's driving Marchand and his colleagues to start educating Valley municipal employees such as animal-control officers and firefighters on the proper way to identify, catch and release snakes after they've slithered, crawled or squirmed onto someone's property.
Calls to such agencies are spiking as the desert becomes increasingly urbanized and people lose their homes to foreclosures, sometimes leaving their pets behind.
"Part of it's the economy," Marchand said. "We're seeing more things turned loose (and) all of these calls seem to go through the fire department."
Marchand and Russ Johnson, the group's president, recently spent three days training firefighters from the Sun City Fire Department on what to do when they come upon a snake.
The men used more than 20 venomous and non-venomous serpents to teach the surprisingly squeamish group of men and women how to catch the snakes using long metal tongs.
"I guarantee you, there ain't a person here that wants to get bit," Johnson told the group as he explained the correct way to pick up a rattlesnake. "I don't care how tough you think you are. It's going to turn you into a bowl of Jell-O."
Firefighter Rich Heyes didn't need convincing.
He was one of the most visibly creeped out by the room of rattlesnakes, pythons and boa constrictors placed in small, windowed boxes and buckets that lined the walls. The snakes hissed and rattled whenever their angry occupants detected a potential predator standing too close.
"I've never liked them," Heyes said as a rattlesnake inside one of those boxes let out an audible hiss. "It's not so bad that I can't function. It's just I don't like them. I've never been able to identify (the poisonous kind) so to me they're just all bad."
As intimidating as those rattles can be, Dr. Michelle Ruha, who specializes in medical toxicology, said most people are bitten because they acted foolishly.
"Many of these snake bites that we get are in association with alcohol use," she said.
She recalled two unusual snake bite cases: A patient was bitten on the tongue after sticking the rattlesnake in his mouth to "calm" the animal. Another patient was bitten on the face after trying to kiss a rattlesnake, she said.
"You can't make it up, right?" she said. "They're lucky that they didn't die."
Ruha said only about 25 percent of the snake-bite cases she sees are purely accidental.
Sandy Young, a Surprise Fire Department engineer and firefighter said calls from residents reporting some type of scary reptile on their property had started rising. The department has received about 140 calls in the past two to three years, she said.
It's becoming a serious matter, she said. A few of the snakes her crews have captured have venom to which there is no known antidote.
Phoenix area city employees learn to manage snakes
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