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Venomous Reptile Ecology Awareness & Safe Handling Training

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September 21, 2018
1:00-4:00 pm
Merriam-Powell Research Station, Flagstaff, Arizona
(on the grounds of the Arboretum at Flagstaff)

Join Dr. Erika Nowak, venomous reptile researcher, for an in-depth look at venomous reptile behavior, ecology, and hands-on practice handling live snakes!

Program overview: Dr. Nowak will conduct an ~ 1.5 hour interactive presentation using a Powerpoint presentation, handouts, and visual aids (e.g. transmitters, PIT tags, preserved specimens, live snakes) to explain common Arizona venomous reptile identification, ecology, and behavior. She will also discuss appropriate responses when venomous reptiles are found in places where they are not welcomed by humans, how to prevent bites, and care for envenomation victims. This will be followed by a ~ 1 hour demonstration and class participation in supervised handling of non-venomous and venomous snakes, using snake-safe tongs and snake-proof holding containers. The setting for the training is Northern Arizona University’s Merriam-Powell Research Station (Merriam-Powell Research Station), located next to the Arboretum at Flagstaff.

Class Size and Cost: For snake safety, class size is limited to 20 participants. The cost for this training, put on by Erika M. Nowak Herpetological Consulting, is $75/person. Checks can be made out to Erika M. Nowak. Ten percent of class fees will be donated to Habitat Harmony, Inc. (habitat to support their important conservation work.

Contact Dr. Nowak at: to reserve your spot. See more about Dr. Nowak’s background and her research with snakes here: NAU News: In it for the Animals

Intended Audience and Justification: This training is aimed at resource managers, park rangers, wildlife managers, law enforcement personnel, field biologists, and others who may be called on to remove a venomous reptile from a dangerous situation. Perhaps over half of the envenomations in the US occur as a result of improper handling, partly as a result of misunderstanding about normal rattlesnake behavior, and partly as a result of improper handling techniques. By discussing data gleaned from field research on wild venomous reptiles and dispelling popular myths before handling training occurs, Dr. Nowak hopes to help participants increase their appreciation for these enigmatic creatures, and begin to conquer fears they may have about venomous reptiles, which in turn will lead to safer handling practices. Take-home handouts will reinforce training concepts, and to provide additional resources for living safely with venomous reptiles. This presentation is based on Dr. Nowak’s 24 years of radio-telemetric and mark-recapture field research on rattlesnakes and gila monsters, conducted primarily in national parks and monuments, with insights from her colleagues.

* Please note that this is not a Habitat Harmony event.
Photo copyright Janet Lynn


Big move for local prairie dogs

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By Alexandra Wittenberg

Originally Published Aug. 12, 2018 by AZ Daily Sun | Link to original

Squeak. Chirp. Scree.

Chances are you’ve probably heard the unique warning bark of the Gunnison prairie dog while passing by a shrubby, grassy area around town. These highly social burrowing ground squirrels have 11 distinct barks for a variety of predators. Unfortunately, the prairie dogs don’t yet have a warning call for "300-acre housing development is about to start construction, destroy our habitat and trap us under swaths of cement for eternity."

In Flagstaff, the habitat loss that the prairie dogs face is exacerbated by the town’s seemingly never-ending construction projects. Oftentimes, new buildings are set to be established right on top of the prairie dog’s intricate tunnel-structured homes.

However, there is a light at the end of their tunnels.

If animals could talk: Former NAU professor works on dog translation device

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By Emery Cowan

Originally Published Jan 24, 2018 by AZ Daily Sun | Link to Original

What if you could easily find out what your dog was barking about? Or what it was thinking when it cocked its head in a certain way? And what if doing so only required pointing a cell phone at your pet and then getting a translation of what it is trying to communicate?

That’s the vision of retired Northern Arizona University biology professor Con Slobodchikoff. After spending decades researching prairie dog communication at NAU, Slobodchikoff has turned his attention in recent years to animal communication and, more specifically, dog communication. His newest project is a dog translation device that could decode a canine's vocalizations, facial expressions and actions and then tell the human user what the dog is trying to say.

Setting right the myths about prairie dogs

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By Lynne Nemeth

Originally published August 25, 2017 by AZ Daily Sun | Link to original

My husband and I live in Doney Park, as many of you know, on two and one-half acres with lots of prairie dogs. I'm quite fond of them, and they know who I am — no alarm calls for me! We frequently find them in the barn or the chicken pen feeding on hay, cracked corn or the chickens' pellets. I recently had to rescue a young one who had become trapped among the hay bales. (Yes, I used gloves.)

Right up front, I am stating that I am not worried about getting the plague, my horses are not going to break their legs in prairie dogs holes and prairie dogs have not destroyed any of my plantings (since they graze primarily on grasses).

Prairie dogs deserve a break, plague and all

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Originally published Aug. 31, 2016 by AZ Daily Sun | Link to original

Our View: As a keystone species, they can help restore the prairie if they are translocated

They are a keystone species and cute, too.

But they also carry deadly plague and eat a lot of grass.

Those are just some of the reasons prairie dogs are loved or hated – with not much in between. The varmints of the Old West were hunted and poisoned nearly to extinction, while the survivors today can’t be relocated fast enough ahead of development. As we reported recently, Doney Park’s loss is Petrified Forest’s gain – along with the black-footed ferrets that eat them.

Prairie Dog Life

Click on the burrow images to find out more.

Nursing Chamber

A mother keeps her young pups safe while the other Prairie Dogs investigate the snake.

Entering the Burrow

A prairie dog hears an emergency cry of "snake" and goes to investigate.

Listening chamber

A prairie dog sits listening just beneath the surface of the ground.

The Rattlesnake

The rattlesnake found a prairie dog burrow to sleep in but has been discovered by the prairie dogs.

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