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Beach Grove students help save snakes

Over 500 removed from construction site

A group of Beach Grove Elementary students helped save the lives of several hundred snakes last week.

The garter snakes had to be rescued as construction crews were scheduled to begin work on a section of the Boundary Bay dike. The students - Ben, Maya, Nic, Jude, Noah, Myles, Jasmine, Kaelyn and Lauren, who are in kindergarten through Grade 5 - were shocked when they heard about the impending construction.

All frequently visit the area to search out the snakes.

"We've all been going to the snakes since we were babies," said Kaelyn.

During the spring and summer, the snakes are active in the area and the kids often visit the beach, for class and after school, to play with them.

"The snakes, to me, are sort of like family," said Maya.

The students saw the signs about the construction so they approached teacher/librarian, and mom to three snake lovers, Anne Kent. She said the kids were worried the snakes would be gone forever if they were disturbed by the dike work.

During the fall and winter the snakes gather together to brumate (a form of reptilian hibernation). The reptiles cluster in empty burrows or holes under rocks in dens called hibernacula.

Kent said classes from the school frequently visit that area of the dike to learn about the local ecosystem first hand.

"They were really devastated by the thought that this was going to happen," she said.

The children decided they needed to take action and got to work making signs asking the municipality to save the snakes. They put the signs up around the area where the work was taking place.

Engineering director Steven Lan said when the municipality was alerted to the presence of the snakes, an environmental consultant took a look at the situation and a rescue plan was put into action. It included removing the snakes and moving them to Wildlife Rescue in Burnaby.

Last Wednesday, the removal of the snakes began as crews started replacing the rip-rap along a section of the dike.

On the first day, just 12 snakes were brought to Wildlife Rescue. However, by Friday that number had ballooned to more than 500.

"We get a few snakes in each year but this is just extraordinary. We've never seen anything like this before and we have never treated so many animals in a single day," said Linda Bakker, Wildlife Rescue's team leader of wildlife rehabilitation.

"We've been working as quickly as we can to check the snakes individually and get them housed and settled so that they can continue their hibernation in peace. It has been quite an intense operation but we are pleased that we have been able to play our part in saving them."

Staff at the facility identified three different species of snake - the common garter snake, the northwestern garter snake and the western terrestrial garter snake.

Each snake was examined and placed in a large plastic container with a thick layer of damp wood shavings and a dish of distilled water. Each sealed container houses at least 20 snakes. The tubs are being stored in a dark, cool, secure outdoor enclosure to allow the snakes to continue their hibernation until next month.

Once temperatures rise above 14 degrees, and the risk of frost has passed, the snakes will be returned to their home in Boundary Bay.

The students at Beach Grove Elementary are happy to see the snakes were saved and will be returning this spring.

"The kids feel so empowered now," Kent said, adding that feeling has spread to the rest of the school.

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