Zoo helps Ill. rattlesnake population

August 11, 2009 (CHICAGO) Massasauga rattlesnakes are almost extinct in the rural areas surrounding Chicago. But now there is a population explosion of the venomous creatures at Lincoln Park Zoo.

Lincoln Park Zoo visitors to the Small Mammal and Reptile House can get a good look at one massasauga rattlesnake. The snake, which came from another zoo, will help you understand what's going on behind the scenes at Lincoln Park. Behind locked doors there are six more massasaugas: Adam, the male, and his partner, Eve, who is the mother of a quartet of brand new poisonous rattlers.

"We have four baby rattlesnakes," said Diane Mulkerin, curator Small Mammals and Reptiles. "Everybody needs rattlesnakes. They're actually good for the environment."

Before you jump out of your skin, relax, your chances of coming across one of these snakes is just about zero. The massasaugas are almost extinct in our area. Eve and her partner Adam were found this past spring by U.S. Wildlife and Lincoln Park Zoo snake hunters who are trying to save this slithering belly crawler. In past years the snakes were abundant. This year they found only two.

"We brought them to the zoo. Put them through three months of quarantine and then we were about to introduce the male and female together to see if we could get some breeding ... but before we were able to do that the female gave birth," said Mulkerin.

So now Adam and Eve have Cane and Able and Jane and Mable.

Adam and Eve and her four offspring will stay at Lincoln Park Zoo for at least a year. Then there's a good chance they will be released back into the wild.

Why put poisonous rattlesnakes back out there.

"They do do good. They keep the rodent population down," said Diane Mulkerin.

And besides ... They were here first.

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