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Scientist disappointed Massachusetts drops snake island plan

Venomous timber rattlesnakes will not be slithering around a deserted island in central Massachusetts. (WJAR)

Venomous timber rattlesnakes will not be slithering around a deserted island in central Massachusetts.

The state was considering a plan to place the snakes on Mount Zion island in the Quabbin Reservoir to help repopulate the species, but the state Fisheries & Wildlife Board voted unanimously Wednesday to suspend the plan.

“At first, I felt like I lost a child. I mean, this one's very important not only to me personally, but to our zoo,” said Lou Perrotti, director of conservation programs for Roger Williams Park Zoo.

Perroti has been breeding timber rattlesnakes at the zoo since 2012. He's been working to revive the endangered species and believed placing them in the Quabbin would protect them from poaching or other means of killing.

“It's an island that's off limits to people, so we felt that snakes would be protected from people there and that alone would help us create a secure population,” he said.

But critics worried the snakes would swim off the island and attack hikers and hunters. Perrotti said fear of snakes led to misinformation.

“Their venom is not for protection,” Perrotti said. “They don't want to use it on you. That's for securing their prey. Their rattle is their protection.”

Even though the snakes won't be released into the Quabbin, they will eventually leave the zoo.

Once the snakes are about three years old, veterinarians will implant radio transmitters to track their progress and then release them.

“Our goal is to breed and grow up snakes and then turn them over to Massachusetts, and then Massachusetts decides where they would be best released,” he said.

Perrotti said timber rattlesnakes play a huge role in the ecosystem by controlling rodent populations.

The snakes are considered extinct in Rhode Island and endangered in Massachusetts.

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