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Rattlesnake colony on uninhabited island

The US state of Massachusetts is planning to set up a colony of venomous rattlesnakes on an uninhabited island, sparking fears that the dangerous serpents could escape and attack people.

The Department of Fisheries and Wildlife wants to make a Quabbin Reservoir island home to the venomous timber rattlesnake, which is indigenous to the state.

In this Sept. 2008 handout file photograph from the Mass. Div. of Wildlife and Fisheries, a timber rattlesnake slithers across a flat rock in Western Massachusetts. A plan by the state to start a colony of venomous timber rattlesnakes on an off-limits island in Massachusetts’ largest drinking water supply is under fire.

Governor Charlie Baker is on board for using the unpopulated island for that purpose. He calls the project “fairly short money” at a few hundred thousand dollars, and said he thinks it is important to preserve indigenous species.

“By creating a colony on an island like that, they are far less likely to run into people who are on the trails and working their way around Quabbin reservoir than they would be if we did nothing,” Mr. Baker was quoted as saying by CBS News.

He downplayed safety concerns among locals, some of whom are worried the snakes could get off the island and attack people in the area.

“If they swim off the island, first of all, it’s a long way from the islands being discussed to get to shoreline anyway. And secondly, if they do, their likelihood of survival is pretty small,” Mr. Baker said.

The state’s plan to revive a native endangered species on a remote island, however, does sound like a horror movie —— breed and raise 150 venomous timber rattlesnakes until they are good and strong, then turn them loose on protected land in the middle of the Quabbin Reservoir.

“Well, they [the snakes] swim,” Peter Mallett, president of the Millers River Fishermen’s Association, who opposes the plan, was quoted as saying by the Boston Globe.

The state Department of Fisheries and Wildlife has offered assurances that a small island full of rattlesnakes would pose no threat.

Any that escape the island will die during the following winter, unable to make it back to their nest, said Tom French, assistant director of the department.

And in reality, rattlesnakes are shy creatures which bite people only when threatened, he said.

“People are afraid that we’re going to put snakes in a place of public use and that they are going to breed like rabbits and spread over the countryside and kill everybody,” he said while representing the state at a public meeting Tuesday to address the concerns.

Timber rattlesnakes once slithered through forests and feasted on mice and chipmunks all over Massachusetts. But deforestation over the last two centuries left little habitat that allowed for their deep underground nests in winter.

Today, only a few isolated populations remain in the Blue Hills, the Connecticut River valley, and Berkshire County.

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