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Service Continues Involvement with AZA SSP for Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake
Midwest Region, October 6, 2010
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Team members of the Eastern Massasauga Rattelsnake Species Survival plan are seen here processing/gathering data from a wild caught massasauga from the field study site in southwest Michigan.  Pictured from left to right are Lisa Faust, Ph.D. (Lincoln Park Zoo), Mike Redmer (USFWS Chicago Field Office), and Randy Junge, DVM (St. Louis Zoo).  Photo by Janice Engle.
Team members of the Eastern Massasauga Rattelsnake Species Survival plan are seen here processing/gathering data from a wild caught massasauga from the field study site in southwest Michigan. Pictured from left to right are Lisa Faust, Ph.D. (Lincoln Park Zoo), Mike Redmer (USFWS Chicago Field Office), and Randy Junge, DVM (St. Louis Zoo). Photo by Janice Engle. - Photo Credit: n/a
Team members of the Eastern Massasauga Rattelsnake Species Survival plan are seen here methodically searching through wetland vegetation to locate wild massasaugas at the field study site in southwest Michigan. Pictured are Dan Malone (John Ball Zoo), and Andrew Lentini, Ph.D. (Toronto Zoo). Photo courtesy Lincoln Park Zoo.
Team members of the Eastern Massasauga Rattelsnake Species Survival plan are seen here methodically searching through wetland vegetation to locate wild massasaugas at the field study site in southwest Michigan. Pictured are Dan Malone (John Ball Zoo), and Andrew Lentini, Ph.D. (Toronto Zoo). Photo courtesy Lincoln Park Zoo. - Photo Credit: n/a
Marking an eastern massasauga by painting the rattle with nail polish (with unique color
Marking an eastern massasauga by painting the rattle with nail polish (with unique color "codes" used for each individual) allows fast identification in the field during he same season. Other more permanent techniques used include PIT tagging, scale clipping and photographing unique dorsal spot patterns of individual snakes. Photo by Janice Engle. - Photo Credit: n/a

The Chicago Illinois ES Field Office has for the fourth consecutive year represented the Service as an invited advisory member of the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake (EMR)Species Survival Plan (SSP) of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).  SSPs are team-based planning processes typically formed only for high-profile species, and/or those that have been determined to be in need of coordinated population/conservation planning for both ex-situ (e.g., captive) and in-situ (=wild) populations.  The eastern massasauga is a candidate for listing as a federally threatened or endangered species, with historical occurrences in 10 states and the Province of Ontario.  Throughout much of its range it is the only venomous snake, making it of high educational and display value for zoos, as well as a species of conservation concern.  

The EMR SSP was formed in 2007 with Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo being designated as lead AZA institution for the species.  The Services Chicago Illinois Field Office also serves as the agency lead for the species, and since formation of the SSP, Biologist Mike Redmer has represented the Service on the SSP.  In this role, Mike has assisted by reviewing research proposals submitted to the SSP, advising on species data gaps (e.g., relationships of population genetics of captive and wild populations; assessment of body and health condition of captive versus wild massasaugas) for which the SSP could contribute a better understanding, and by helping to design and plan a field study undertaken by SSP members (more below).  

In addition to planning management of the ex-situ population, the AZA SSP determined early on that more information on the structure of wild EMR populations was needed to help better understand the needs of the captive population.  Because of this, in 2009, the EMR SSP embarked on a five-year study of a known population on the grounds of a private foundation in southwest Michigan.  The EMR SSP held its third (2009) and fourth (2010) annual business meetings at the Michigan site, and enlisted the field assistance of attendees to survey,  measure, and mark individual massasaugas over a five day period.  In 2010 the study was expanded to include Northern Illinois University as a partner, with a graduate student and assistant contributing to help expand the field season.  To date, the field study has exceeded initial expectations, resulting in the capture, marking, and release of over 86 individual massasaugas. 

The AZA has a long track record of collaborating and cooperating with the Service on initiatives to conserve rare species.  In only its fourth year, the EMR SSP appears to be an example of another such partnership that, while still somewhat new, will endure and evolve far into the future.


Contact Info: Michael Redmer, 847-381-2253, Mike_Redmer@fws.gov



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