Residents rattled by plan to colonize Massachusetts island with snakes

The timber rattlesnakes have a venomous bite. © William West
Forget Jurassic Park: There’s an island in Massachusetts whose inhabitants look set to replace velociraptors in your nightmares. Ignoring warnings against “playing God,” the state government plans to create a colony of rattlesnakes on a small island.

The 1,350-acre Mount Zion Island in the Quabbin Reservoir is close to a popular hiking trail, but is off-limits to the public. Its sole connection to the mainland is a narrow, man-made dirt road that nearby residents hoping their new neighbors won’t venture down.

In an attempt to save the venomous timber rattlesnake from dying out completely, the state government plans to colonize the island with up to 150 specimens of the endangered species. The snakes will be raised in a Providence, Rhode Island zoo until they grow to be the size of a four or five-year-old wild snake. Then they will be transported to Mount Zion to join their friends.

Director of the project Tom French said in a statement that residents have no need to worry, as the rattlesnake rarely ventures more than two miles from its den and, in the unlikely event that one did venture further, they would still be a significant distance from an area populated by humans.

Thanks Tom, that reduces our nightmares, slightly.

French also called the snakes “lazy” in an attempt to calm our fears, saying “Mount Zion is large enough that the snakes would have little motivation to leave.”

Although off-limits, the water surrounding the island is popular with kayakers and water-sports enthusiasts, but French warns said that the snakes pose little threat to anyone who comes across them. “Almost all bites occur as the result of irresponsible (and illegal) activities that involve someone deliberately handling or harassing the animals.”

He does admit the snakes are good swimmers, so let’s hope they don’t get too big.

Massachusetts residents probably shouldn’t get too scared, though, as there hasn't been a rattlesnake bite death in the state since colonial times. Sit back, relax and be friendly to your new snake neighbours.