SALT LAKE CITY — A snake expert hopes whoever spray-painted a 4-foot rattlesnake pink will be caught.
Jim Dix, owner of Reptile Rescue, said he received a call on June 10 from someone reporting that construction workers near the University of Utah had sprayed a snake, nearly killing it.
“The whole thing was an act of stupidity,” Dix said. “There’s no excuse for it.”
Dix said someone sprayed the snake over its eyes, all the way down to the end of its tail. He and other reptile experts can’t use chemicals to remove the paint, so they are soaking the snake in warm water, twice a day. Some of the paint has flaked off, but it hasn’t come off its eyes, he said.
The snake is being held at Reptile Rescue. It will shed its skin in the next three to four weeks, and that includes eye caps, he said, and it should make a full recovery. When it does, it will be returned to the wild near Red Butte Garden.
Until then, the paint is causing several concerns.
“This is an ambush predator, so now he can’t camouflage to get his food, sneak up on it to kill it,” Dix said.
He said the snake can’t see, “so he would be striking at more things than he ordinarily would.”
He also stands out, so he could be eaten by birds of prey or other predators. But the biggest concern Dix sees from this incident is the human factor.
“It would draw more attention from people who would see him, which would also cause us to have a person getting bit because he’s standing out instead of blending into the side of a hill or a bush.”
Dix thinks construction workers used a marker paint stick to spray the snake. The sticks are about 3 foot long, he said. Had they used a regular spray can, they likely would have been bit.
He said it’s against the law to capture, remove, harass or kill snakes. It’s a class B misdemeanor. He hopes those who did this are caught.
“It’s bad enough they painted it," he said, "but getting it in its eyes, that’s ridiculous.”
Treating a snake bite costs $90,000. “So that’s like six vials of antivenom and three days in the hospital, and that’s if you’re bit in muscle or fatty tissue,” he said.
If bit between fingers or the face, it could be a very serious injury. Face shots are usually fatal, he said.
The type of snake in the area is the Great Basin Rattlesnake, which Dix said is not an aggressive snake. It would try to get away from people rather than confront them. But if someone persists, it will strike.
A small number of people get bit by snakes every year. People who get bit may have tried to either capture it or kill it, or come upon it by accident, Dix said. They may step into a bush where the snake was hidden, or put their hand on a rock where the snake was basking in the sun.
Contributing: Peter Samore