The Eastern Diamondback
Rattlesnake Conservation Program
The Orianne Society has initiated our Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake Conservation Program (EDBCP) as a program within the Indigo Snake Initiative, to promote the conservation of Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes throughout their range.
Unfortunately, much like the Eastern Indigo Snake, the Eastern Diamondback has suffered from the loss, fragmentation, and degradation of native habitats in which it lives. However, like most venomous snakes, the Eastern Diamondback faces additional threats in the form of intense human persecution through rattlesnake roundups, malicious killings, and road mortality. Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes, the largest native venomous snakes in North America, have apparently declined in parts of their range where they are subject to intense persecution and habitat loss, and degradation has likely contributed to additional declines.
Eastern Diamondbacks do not receive special protection in most of their range. Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes are an integral part of the longleaf pine ecosystem, using Gopher Tortoise burrows for overwinter refugia, preying on a variety of small mammals, and even serving as prey for the Eastern Indigo Snake.
The Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake’s close association with the longleaf pine ecosystem provides an excellent opportunity to use our on-the-ground conservation efforts for Eastern Indigo Snakes to benefit Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes. Its large size (up to eight feet in length), potent venom, and striking pattern make the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake a high profile snake within the Coastal Plain.
The mission of the EDBCP is to promote Eastern Diamonback Rattlesnake conservation by using scientific research and monitoring to answer specific questions needed to better conserve and manage Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes, and to work with a diverse group of state, federal, and non-governmental organizations (NGO), and private individuals to develop management and conservation strategies for Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes. This multi-level and partner-driven approach allows our efforts to have a broader and stronger impact on Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake conservation.
Protecting the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake
Eastern Diamondback Conservation Action Planning Team
The Orianne Society has currently held two Eastern Diamondback Conservation Action Planning Team meetings, one in 2011 at the Southeast Partners for Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (SEPARC) and a second at the Orianne Indigo Snake Preserve in 2012. During these meetings, the Planning Team assessed the current, range-wide status of Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes, identified measures that are necessary to ensure their survival, and begun identifying future research and conservation needs. The team is looking forward to reconvening in 2013 to begin assembling the specific portions of the Conservation Action Plan into an comprehensible document that is easily accessible to managers. Stay tuned for updates on this important document! The Orianne Society plans to continue working with local and regional managers to help implement the conservation guidelines in this document to ensure the range-wide persistence of Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes.
Georgia Coastal Barrier Islands
The Orianne Society, in conjunction with the University of Georgia, is conducting a research project to determine the effects of coastal development on Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes on Georgia’s coastal barrier islands. Some of these barrier islands support healthy populations of Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes, yet Georgia’s coast is facing increased development and habitat fragmentation. It is important to understand how fragmentation of coastal habitat impacts Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake populations so that this information can help guide future development in a way that reduces its impact on rattlesnake populations. This research project focuses on determining how habitat loss and fragmentation has influenced the distribution and abundance of Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes on Georgia’s barrier islands and includes surveying for Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes at multiple sites across several islands and relating rattlesnake occupancy (i.e., presence) to multiple measures of habitat loss and fragmentation. We have completed one season of field work and presented a poster on this project at the Biology of the Rattlesnakes Symposium in Tucson, Arizona.
Altamaha River Drainage
Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes are currently found throughout the Altamaha River Drainage in southern Georgia, including the Orianne Indigo Snake Preserve. We are currently monitoring Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake occupancy (i.e., presence) throughout the Altamaha River Drainage. Because Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes utilize Gopher Tortoise burrows as overwintering sites and remain surface active to some degree, we are able to use our Eastern Indigo Snake occupancy surveys to monitor Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake occupancy. We are also conducting fine scale monitoring through mark-recapture of Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes on the Orianne Indigo Snake Preserve to monitor rattlesnake population size, growth, and health. These monitoring programs will allow us to track the status of Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes in the Lower Altamaha River Drainage and ensure that this region will continue to remain a stronghold for this species. To date, we have conducted two years of occupancy monitoring and four years of mark-recapture monitoring and look forward to continuing these projects into the future.
Addressing Rattlesnake Roundups
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife recently announced a 90-day review for listing Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes as a threatened species. Regardless of whether the Eastern Diamondback is ultimately listed, The Orianne Society is committed to the conservation of this species.
We conduct education and outreach throughout the southeast to raise awareness about Diamondbacks and other imperiled snake species. We are also working to promote the conversion of “rattlesnake roundups” to conservation events.
In the spring of 2012 The Orianne Society participated in the Claxton Georgia Rattlesnake and Wildlife Festival. Formerly known as the Claxton Rattlesnake Roundup, this event proved that these roundups can successfully transition to conservation events and still be an economic asset to their community.
Utilizing the facilities at the Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation, we plan to house and provide animals for the Claxton Wildlife Festival to ensure its continued success. Wherever possible, we are ready to supply our expertise in snake conservation, husbandry, and education to other such events that require logistical support.