© ERIC PAUL ZAMORA/Fresno Bee/TNS Bella Rose Britt is photographed on April 24, 2018 in Fresno, Calif. Britt, who has loved snakes since ...
By Carmen George, The Fresno Bee, Tribune News Service
Bella Rose Britt used to run princess parties for kids. It wasn't really her thing.
She's now pursuing a true passion: Saving venomous snakes from slaughter. Particularly, the infamous rattlesnakes prevalent throughout the foothills of the Sierra Nevada that often die by shotgun or shovel.
Britt took to Facebook recently, posting a photo of herself armed with a snake hook and bucket, to offer her free snake-wrangling services.
The comments the post snagged so far are largely positive: "That is a noble thing, snakes are important and all part of our planet," wrote one person.
But not everyone is a fan: "Please don't set them free here. I don't like them."
The rattlers Britt removes will be relocated on some Coarsegold-area properties with ample acreage, or empty fields, where residents have asked for the snakes. The serpents eat mice and rats.
Britt said an Oakhurst dog rescue that trains canines to spot and avoid rattlesnakes has also asked for snakes.
She's catching and releasing them for free (although donations are accepted). She works as a freelance photographer when she's not snake catching.
Britt has loved snakes since she was a girl. She's not sure what started her fascination.
She has five pet snakes in her Fresno home. Three are reticulated pythons: Severus (named after Professor Snape in "Harry Potter"), Maleficent (for the vengeful fairy from "Sleeping Beauty") and Gabriel (named after the Angel Gabriel for cross shapes on his head). She also has a red-tailed boa named Zuri (Swahili for "beautiful"), and a ball python named Giorgio Armani (after the Italian fashion designer).
Britt describes herself as an experienced snake handler with a passion for snakes, "especially venomous ones."
Britt purchased her snake-catching equipment at Central Valley Reptile Expo in Fresno.
She points to snake venom being used for medical research to help cure various life-threatening ailments as one reason to protect them.
"I really want to spread education about rattlesnakes. Even though they are scary and dangerous, they do have a place in our ecosystem and they should be protected and respected."
HOW TO STAY RATTLESNAKE SAFE
Although Britt is eager to catch rattlesnakes, she stresses that others should not do the same. Attempting to catch or kill a rattlesnake is dangerous because a rattlesnake bite can be fatal.
If you do encounter a rattlesnake, Britt says, back away slowly facing the snake. If you are bit, she says, get to a hospital as quickly as possible so doctors can administer life-saving anti-venom, but don't run or panic. If you do, that can cause the venom to circulate more quickly in the bloodstream. Also, she says, trying to suck or cut out venom won't work and will only make it worse.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife offers more tips to stay rattlesnake safe.
Rattlesnakes usually avoid humans, but about 8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes in the U.S. each year, with 10 to 15 deaths, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Britt adds: "Regardless of what you've heard or been told, these creatures are not aggressive and will not chase you. They want nothing to do with you and if they feel threatened, all they want is to defend themselves or, better yet, find an escape route."
Gopher snakes, which are not venomous, look similar to rattlesnakes.
"The pattern on their back is more rectangular than diamond-shaped," she says of gopher snakes. "They are smoother and thinner and the head shape is more rectangular."
Rattlesnakes have "big fat diamond-shaped heads" that remind Britt of bulldogs.
Gopher snakes also have no rattle on their tails, although Britt says they can make a similar rattling sound with their vertebrae.
Other common snakes in the Sierra Nevada foothills that are not venomous include kingsnakes and garter snakes.
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