The Eastern Georgian Bay shoreline, blessed with numerous islands and a diverse interior habitat, represents the largest land area where the massasauga rattlesnake may be found. The area is comprised of mixed forests, areas of exposed bedrock, and wetlands, including marshes, swamps, fens, and bogs. The massasauga is symbolic of the natural Georgian Bay ecosystem. Like the moose or black bear, the snake is respected and admired by many for its uniqueness as a part of Ontarios natural world. Despite the large area, many massasauga populations in this region are under threat and in danger of declining.
National and provincial parks within the region offer some protection for rattlesnakes. Remote areas with ideal massasauga habitat and limited disturbance still exist and harbour rattlesnake populations that are presumably healthy. However, the natural beauty of the Georgian Bay region has led to intense development in some areas. Eastern Georgian Bay is the heart of southern Ontarios cottage country and a prime area for cottages, recreation, and residential development. As development progresses into previously undisturbed areas, the chance of these activities impacting on the massasauga populations and other wildlife increases.
With increased development comes more roads. To reduce snake highway mortalities, officials have posted snake crossing road signs in Killbear Provincial Park. They alert drivers to the possibility that snakes might be on the road. Hopefully people will slow down and pay closer attention to not just snakes but all animals crossing roads inside and outside of the Park. These signs have also been erected in other areas where the massasauga exists.
Wildlife biologists have been studying the region's eastern massasauga rattlesnakes since 1990. The research involves locating rattlesnakes within the park, measuring and marking them for individual identification, and collecting blood samples for DNA analysis. The researchers also implant some of the snakes with a radio transmitter and track them. This method of research helps biologists discover movements and the preferred habitat of the massasauga.
Using these observations, Parks Canada has been developing a habitat suitability model. This kind of research will help provide better answers for future conservation efforts for the massasauga.
© Brent Huffman, Toronto Zoo 2005