ELKINS, W.Va. — A man cited after Natural Resources Police found 17 snakes in his possession had no ill intent with the critters.
The man, whose name has not been released, was cited when Division of Natural Resources Police officers received a tip from biologists from other states who happened to be in the National Forest in Tucker County and ran into the man as he was catching the snakes. They got a license plate number and reported it to the DNR.
“We went to his house with a search warrant, but we didn’t have to execute it,” said Cpl. Greg Smith. “He didn’t have the snakes in the house, he had them in a cage built on his porch.”
Smith said the man was completely cooperative with officers. He was an amateur herpetologist according to investigators and was simply interested in rattlesnakes and sharing knowledge about them with others.
“He was not a hater of snakes, he was a lover of them. His grandfather caught snakes, it was sort of a family tradition,” Smith explained. “They caught snakes, kept them, and then took them back to the original den by the first of September when they had their young.”
The suspect went so far as to mark the snakes so he would know where to return them in the woods. He assisted DNR biologists in returning the snakes to the dens where they were captured. He even helped the team discover a new rattlesnake den they were previously unaware existed. Despite his compassion and interest, his actions still were in violation of the possession law, which is one rattlesnake over 42 inches per person. Legally he could have had three in his possession legally since his son and wife are also in the home. However, he had also captured them on the National Forest–a separate violation.
“He’s now aware of the possession limit, but you also still cannot take them off national forest or state property,” said Smith. “There will be multiple charges, but I’d like stress the guy was very cooperative. He wasn’t killing the snakes and he helped return them, so we take that into account when we cite somebody.”
The West Virginia DNR is currently engaged in a study of rattlesnakes to hopefully get a better handle on their numbers in the Mountain State. The study aims to also gauge the overall health of the species in West Virginia. Although not necessarily “endangered” rattlesnake numbers have dropped in recent years by an alarming rate according to the DNR.