One of the most beautiful of its kind, the snake that inhabits the San Francisco peninsula is also the most threatened of its kind. Fortunately for the California snake, it has human protectors who have provided it with a safe haven near the runways at San Francisco International Airport.
The snake of San Francisco (thamnophis sirtalis tetrataenia), which can grow up to a meter in length, has skin that looks like a black canvas painted with bright orange and neon turquoise racing stripes.
As the Bay Area has grown and developed, the wetland habitat needed to support the harmless snake has diminished, which is why the animal was listed as endangered 54 years ago. The brutal droughts have also reduced its population, and also that of its prey.
While the snake is mostly isolated around the San Francisco peninsula, they are thriving in numbers near the runway of the airport known as SFO.
A 160-acre tract of private property has been put to work to save the beautiful reptile, including building many small ponds where the snake can stay wet, breed, and hunt its favorite prey: the red-legged frog, which is also in danger and sanctuary on the lawn of the SFO airstrip.
Officials who own the land and operate the airport now boast of having kept 1,300 snakes happy and fed while the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) searches for a better solution.
In fact, the recent survey by the FWS stated that this is the largest population of this particular garter snake anywhere, something SFO chiefs called a “pleasant surprise.”
“Everything that happens there is designed to protect these species,” said OFS spokesman Doug Yakel, according to the Guardian.
“Success for us would be to have a prosperous and stable population, but finding out that we had the largest population was really a pleasant surprise.”
In the rest of the Bay Area, cats and dogs have become two of the snake’s top predators. But, at the airport, the snakes practically have the land to themselves – a double positive as the airport wildlife biologist can make sure they are insulated from the effects of climate change that would normally harm wild populations.
Frogs also have ponds in which they can safely raise tadpoles.
“As our airport continues to evolve, this is the only place that remains the same,” Yakel said. “We want to continue to provide a good stable environment for these two endangered species. Hearing that they are thriving, that’s the ultimate validation. “
In 1985 recovery plan Presented alongside the endangered species list, the FWS wrote that 10 populations of at least 200 snakes must be stable or growing for 15 consecutive years before exclusion of the snake can be considered. According to this criterion, at least one habitat, the OFS, has succeeded.
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