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On July 21, California Wildlife Center received a gopher snake from Malibu that had become entangled in netting. The snake had suffered lacerations to her body as she struggled to free herself. Senior Wildlife Technician Supervisor Jenn Guess commented the patient was lucky that her rescuers had brought her to CWC so quickly. If the snake had been trapped longer, she would have suffered from dehydration.
Staff gave the snake pain medications, anti-inflammatories and antibiotics, as well as a topical treatment for the wounds. The snake remained alert and active during her initial exam which is a positive sign that her injuries weren't serious.
The following day, the snake was energetic, which created a problem for staff, who had to hold her still and vertical while she was tube-fed a carnivore-replacement formula for reptiles.
Guess said the patient's prognosis is good, and the snake should be ready to return to the wild once her wounds have healed.
Gopher snakes range from central and western Canada down to Mexico. They are found in a variety of habitats, including chaparral, deserts, forests and grasslands. The snakes are non-venomous and can reach 3 to 8 feet in length. Their coloration ranges from cream to brown to allow them to camouflage. They have similar markings to rattlesnakes and use this to their advantage. When threatened, gopher snakes will flatten their head into the diamond shape associated with pit vipers and vibrate their tail against dry brush to imitate a rattle.
Gopher snakes are beneficial to humans by keeping rodent populations at bay. Instead of venom, they use constriction, wrapping their muscular bodies around their prey and tightening.
While gopher snakes are harmless to humans, people can pose a threat to the snakes. Every year we receive at least a couple of snakes trapped in garden or bird netting. The loose nylon mesh usually has one-inch gaps that can catch snakes trying to pass through. This webbing can capture and trap other wildlife as well, causing painful injuries and sometimes death.
If you find an injured snake, first confirm it is not a Southern Pacific rattlesnake. If it is, do not attempt to catch it yourself. Contact your local animal control agency.
If you find a non-venomous snake, carefully move it into a pillowcase and tie the end as constrictors can still bite. You can use a snake hook or large tongs to pick it up. Do not offer food or water.
Keep the snake someplace dark and quiet until you reach your local wildlife rehabilitator. CWC's number is (310) 458-9453.
California Wildlife Center is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that provides medical and rehabilitative care to more than 4,300 sick, injured, and orphaned native California animals every year. Click here to donate.