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Refuge to mark World Snake Day with free activities

By Staff | Jul 9, 2019

PHOTO PROVIDED World Snake Day on June 16 at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge will kick off with a free guided tour of the Indigo Trail, which is named after one of Florida’s rarest snakes.

Following its celebration of World Sea Turtle Day last month, the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge has a slate of free activities planned for visitors to recognize another day.

On July 16, the Sanibel refuge will mark World Snake Day from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Refuge Conservation Educator Sara Hallas, who is leading the environmental education team coordinating the day’s programming, explained that a lot of people are afraid of snakes and that it is understandable. For many, snakes come with unknowns – are they dangerous or venomous?

“We only have like six venomous snakes in Florida out of the hundreds of species,” she said. “We’re going to educate people of the benefits of snakes and why there really isn’t a need to be afraid.”

Hallas noted that snakes play a role in the ecosystem.

PHOTO PROVIDED A free showing of the film “Invasion of the Pythons” will take place at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on June 16 in recognition of World Snake Day.

“They’re free pest control service,” she said. “Some snakes actually eat other snakes, like venomous and non-native species, and small nuisance animals like rats.”

Hallas added that snake venom is used in different kinds of medications and the medical field is researching using snake venom for possible cures for diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.

By educating the public about snakes, the refuge hopes to dispel at least some of the fear around the species, perhaps preventing unnecessary injury and death to the reptiles by people in the future.

“And learning more about them, they might actually appreciate the animal,” she said.

For World Snake Day, the activities will kick off with a free guided walk of the Indigo Trail from 9 to 10 a.m. Participants will meet at the flagpole at the entrance to the refuge; prepare for the weather.

Sara Hallas

“We’ll be going all the way out to the Wildlife Education Broadway,” Hallas said.

“Even through the walk is early, it’s still buggy and you’re going to need water,” she added.

Participants may see some nesting baby birds along the way.

“It would be perfect if we saw a snake,” Hallas said.

The refuge houses three species of snakes: black racer, rat snake and mangrove water snake.

The first 20 participants to arrive will receive a free gift to take home.

“It’s snake related,” she said.

There is no cap on the number of people who can take part in the guided walk.

“We’d like as many as possible,” Hallas said. “We would just break them off into smaller groups.”

From 11 to 11:30 a.m. and again from 2:30 to 3 p.m., a free snake lesson will take place in the classroom in the Visitor & Education Center. Education intern Izzy Garcia will lead the program. She had previously conducted research and field work as an intern at the Everglades National Park.

“She has knowledge on snakes and tegu lizards,” Hallas said. “She worked with those.”

“We’ll have some really cool props for people to see things up close and personal,” she added. “However, there will not be any live animals for the lessons.”

Hallas pointed out that there are two times scheduled for the lesson.

“If they couldn’t make it the first time, or if they’d like to come again,” she said.

A free showing of the film “Invasion of the Giant Pythons” will be held from noon to 1 p.m. Taking place in the auditorium, the movie focuses on the Everglades and includes how it all got started.

“There’s really interesting facts on their sizes, the different (native) species they’re affecting,” Hallas said of the invasive pythons. “And their breeding habitats, and the tagging of females.”

She reported that park and refuge rangers are now talking about how dealing with or managing the species may end up being the only option, that eliminating the species may not actually work.

“It’s related because it’s right here in our backyard,” Hallas said.

From noon to 2 p.m., free upcycled crafts will be offered in the refuge’s center.

“Snake related, of course, so no pelicans or anything,” she said.

There will be DIY bracelets, bookmarks and more.

“We’ll be using recycled materials and actually even the tops of soda pop cans,” Hallas said.

She reiterated that all of the day’s planned activities are free and open to the public.

“Come with questions,” Hallas said. “We want to inform and educate.”

For more information, contact Hallas at 239-472-1100 ext. 236.

The J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is at 1 Wildlife Drive.