Forgotten Friend: Dangers of Garden Netting
Getting the Word Out: Freeing Snakes from Garden Netting
Forgotten Friend Reptile Sanctuary expert discusses all too common injury
Jesse Rothacker lives with 100 reptiles (and three humans) and is the founder and President of Forgotten Friend Reptile Sanctuary, a nonprofit reptile sanctuary and educational organization located in Pennsylvania. Forgotten Friend is one of the rescues supported by the Zen Habitats Reptile Relief program.
Zen Habitats: An injured Rat Snake was brought into Forgotten Friend, what happened?
Jesse: Homeowners in Conestoga, PA, discovered the snake was trapped in their garden netting in their backyard garden. We drove out there to save him before he baked in the sun and got there just in time as he was starting to become lifeless, we cut him out of the netting.
Zen Habitats: Is it common for snakes to get caught in garden netting?
Jesse: Yes, it happens a lot.This is why we are always trying to raise awareness about the danger of that product.
Zen Habitats: Do you have advice for gardeners for ways to prevent this from happening?
Jesse: One of the most common commercially available garden nettings, the ones you find at any hardware store, Amazon, etc., are often the cheapest kind. They have big holes that trap snakes, birds, mammals, etc. Unfortunately, the more expensive nettings are also the safest. They are mesh with much tinier holes, too small for animals to get trapped in. (Jesse has a YouTube video demonstrating the two basic types of netting.)
Zen Habitats: How emergent was this situation?
Jesse: Very. The clock was ticking as soon as soon as it was stuck.
Less expensive netting such as this is dangerous because it tends to have big holes that can trap snakes, birds, mammals, and other animals.
Wildlife friendly netting has a smaller mesh netting that prevents snakes and other animals from getting stuck.
Zen Habitats: What is the safest way to release a snake from garden netting?
Jesse: We use knives and scissors to cut them free. Sometimes it is easy. Other times the snake has been trapped for a long time and all their struggling to escape has caused the plastic netting to cut deeper into their skin causing cuts. This can leave lasting scars as well as make the netting more difficult to remove. We use regular scissors for most of the netting, and a smaller pair of medical scissors for the tightest parts of the netting. Most snakes (and birds, chipmunks, and other animals) will bite you at times during the rescue process. If the snake is venomous, it complicates matters.
Jesse and his daughter needed to rush to the rescue of this Rat Snake caught in garden netting. The snake would have surely perished in midday temperatures in the high 80s.
Zen Habitats: Can there be permanent injuries in snakes?
Jesse: Many will have permanent scars but others with more external injuries experience no major impact. I suspect this snake will always have scars from where the netting was cutting into its face and body.
Zen Habitats: How long was this snake in your care?
Jesse: It took us less than hour to free it from the netting. We actually spent more time driving there and home.
Zen Habitats: Was the snake released or rehomed?
Jesse: The homeowners agreed to let us release him in their backyard, so the snake could stay in his home range. (Watch the Rat Snake rescue.)
Zen Habitats: What other advice do you have for those that find an injured snake? What should they do?
Jesse: Give them shade and snap a photo from a safe distance until the species is identified as venomous or nonvenomous. You can send pictures to us for ID, or other snake ID groups on FaceBook.
Zen Habitats: Are snakes the most common reptiles to come to your rescue?
Jesse: Yes, snakes are the most common for us to receive because they are the easiest for us to accommodate. Many turtles and lizards and crocodilians come in here as well, but we are limited in how many we can accommodate due to the space they require.
Zen Habitats: Are there snakes you receive that are fostered or homed?
Jesse: We have adopted out many snakes, lizards, turtles, and crocs. Most of the reptiles we adopt out are from the pet trade. With wildlife calls, like the Rat Snake who was trapped in netting, we prefer to release them into the wild if possible.
Zen Habitats: Any advice and special considerations for owners taking on a rescued reptile versus those purchased through a breeder?
Jesse: No matter where you get your pet reptile, make sure to learn the specific needs of each species in your care. If your reptile is not well socialized, you may need to put in the time to get them comfortable with handling. You can make this easier on you (and the reptile) by simply starting with a thick pair of gloves. Then bites and scratches won't deter you from handling, and this will teach the reptile that biting won't deter handling. Before long, most grow tired of biting, and become much easier to handle. But, of course, every species is different so make sure you know what you're getting!