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Snake handler also educates

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By Tris DeRoma

It’s about 9 a.m. somewhere in a canyon in Los Alamos County, and snake expert and rehabilitator Tom Wyant was on the hunt.  

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Wyant was searching for the perfect area to release a prairie rattlesnake he recently captured in a yard on 47th Street. 

When Wyant and the rest of his volunteer crew prepare to release snakes, they can spend hours walking dry river beds, rock fields and hilly slopes to find the perfect spot. 

Shelter, water and maybe a hole or two is all a snake needs, but Wyant knows where to look to find the right mix. 

On this particular Wednesday morning, a prairie rattle, which Wyant nursed to health before relocation, is reluctant to leave his side. 

Instead of slithering into a nearby hole, the snake sits and stares intently at Wyant, who is more than a safe distance away. 

Patiently Wyant waited, taking the opportunity to explain that the prairie snake is an older snake, noting the rattles on its tail are more parallel than its more tapered first rattle. 

Soon, the snake lost interest in Wyant, turns and slithers into the hole Wyant found for it. 

It was a successful ending. 

Sometimes though, it’s not always that way, Wyant explains. 

As an experienced snake handler who goes out on calls for the Los Alamos police to take rattle snakes, bull snakes and other snakes out of people’s yards, Wyant  has seen what people who don’t understand snakes can do. Sometimes people, some well meaning and some doing it for bravado, imitate what they see on TV and try to get rid of the snake themselves by pinning the snake behind its neck, damaging its spine. 

Some people just kill them outright. 

Wyant said there is no need to panic when one sees a snake where they think they shouldn’t be.

“Freeze,” he said. “The first thing you do, obviously, is to freeze, because they have very poor eyesight. They can’t see you if you stand perfectly still. It’s movement where they will strike and bite” 

Whether they are venomous or non venomous, all snakes are good, according to Wyant, whose team responded to over 50 snake calls this summer.

“Snakes are really good for people, believe it or not,” Wyant said. “They control the rodent population, rodents that possibly carry the Hantavirus. Snakes, since they’re cold blooded, can eat these infected rodents and do not get the disease because they have a different metabolism.”

Besides removing the snake, Wyant, who has handled snakes most of his life, will educate people on why the snakes are in their yard, and how they can create a snake free environment so they don’t come back. He also conducts educational programs for groups and organizations. He will even teach people that want to learn how to handle them also. 

Residents can contact Wyant through county dispatch at 662-8222 or residents can call him directly at 672-1981.

“They are Mother Nature’s perfect mouser, as far as I’m concerned,” Wyant said. “Night time, day time above ground below ground, nothing can control rodents like snakes can.”