Snake removal research hopes to stop snake killings in Phoenix

A recent study published in Global Ecology and Conservation examined over 2,300 snake removals in Phoenix between 2018 and 2019, comparing removal locations to neighborhood-level socioeconomic and demographic factors. The article, entitled Unwanted residential wildlife: Evaluating social-ecological patterns for snake removals, found snake removals occurred more frequently in high-income neighborhoods with recently constructed homes closer to undeveloped desert. Western diamondback rattlesnakes, which are venomous, were extracted most often, making up 68% of removals. The non-venomous Sonoran gopher snake was a distant runner-up, making up 16% of removals. Sustainability scientist Heather Bateman, an associate professor at ASU who is the lead author the study, said the size and depth of the dataset from Rattlesnake Solutions is an invaluable new source of information. Read more about the work, supported by the NSF-funded Central Arizona-Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research program, in this AZ Central article. The paper's abstract follows. Snakes are globally threatened due to anthropogenic pressures. Conflicts between snakes and people occur when residents encounter snakes in their home environments. In collaboration with a local business that provides snake removal services, we examined records from over 2000 snake removals in Phoenix metropolitan area, Arizona, United States between 2018 and 2019. We examined removal locations in relation to neighborhood-level socioeconomic attributes from the American Community Survey and individual demographics from a social survey of 494 respondents. Over 68% of removals were of the venomous Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox), which is the most common species in the area observed in community-sourced data and publications. Removals occurred throughout the year except winter and peaked during summer rainy season. Snakes were frequently removed from neighborhoods with wealthier and more highly educated residents, greater proportion of Latinx residents, and recently constructed homes. Individual perceptions of snakes as problematic were not related to the number of snakes removed. This research is the first to analyze snake removals in a social-ecological context and underscores the conservation benefits of researchers partnering with a local business to gain spatial and temporal information on an elusive taxon. Similar collaborations could lead to direct conservation action for snakes by researchers learning from community members in cities and by groups willing to use results from research partnerships to inform their practices. Understanding how to maintain biodiversity in urbanizing arid regions could protect snakes if relocating snakes away from areas of high human density translates into fewer snakes killed by people annually.