Friends. Before the story gets out, the rumors circulate, and people speculate the wrong thing I'd like to tell you about an incident I was involved in last night. My friend Tim Weaver and I, were in the Pine Barrens roadcruising. As you have seen me post many times before, we were looking for snakes to get off the road and out of harm's way.
The night was solid and we had already saved two snakes. A third one was hit right in front of us... a baby Black Ratsnake. I'm going to get to the gist of the story though.
Our next snake was a gorgeous Timber Rattlesnake. It lollygagged its way out onto the road as we drove by and I backed up. It slowly came out not even to the center of the road and just sat there, soaking up the last heat in the blacktop like every other snake of the night. Basically, it was a sitting duck for another vehicle's tires.
I escorted it off the road. By escort, I mean I stomped behind it and tried to annoy it until it scurried off. It took a minute or two, but eventually it moved on with a slight rattle. I know the rules in New Jersey and didn't hook or handle it. Honestly, there's really no need to touch it at all when it was moving simply because of my presence. I just wanted it off the road. I've seen dead snakes (two timbers included) on this road before. I make NO apologies for "harassing" a timber out of harm's way.
So here's the kicker... I'm no martyr. Yes, I feel good about myself for saving animals, but of course I want photos too. I'm a snake-enthusiast and conservationist, but like every other human being, I'm self-serving... and I like my pictures! So we got our cameras out now that the snake was off the road, and started snapping some shots.
Less than five minutes later, a truck pulls up - Park Police. Without getting into too many details of our very unfortunate meeting, here are the facts:
- We are supposed to be getting a summons in the mail for "harassing" a protected species.
- Not a single time, did we touch the snake - we didn't have to. Timbers are usually very obliging with photo opportunities.
- The law enforcement was very rude, antagonistic and tried to provoke us into a confrontation. In fact, when asked if taking photos was considered harassment, the one officer said, "Keep running your mouth. I already have you for harassment. I'll write you up for whatever I want."
- Despite my full cooperation, respect, and admittance of what we were there for, they kept trying to get us to admit to more. There was simply nothing more to admit.
- Their ultimate reason for considering us as harassing the snake was that it was rattling. In fact, the only time it rattled was when it moved off the street briefly and again when they showed up and we stood up and they were shining their spotlights on us and the snake. In fact, it stopped rattling pretty quickly after they stopped shining it.
There's many more details I could give on the encounter. But that's the essence. I have tons of respect for law enforcement, and I appreciate them doing their job. But the way they handled us and my sincere passion and care for these animals leaves me with a horrible taste in my mouth. I have had plenty of encounters with law enforcement while out herping. It's a weird hobby - I expect it and deal with it congenially. Last night was a different story though.
Those are the facts. This is to serve two purposes. #1, to make sure the real story is out there for people to know - I think my reputation is plenty solid. And #2, to serve as warning to my fellow herpers that even us good guys can get in trouble within the technicalities of the law.
Do I regret it? No, not at all. I'll never apologize for doing what I know is right. The only thing I'm guilty of is adding a few more photos to my collection. ...oh and a rattlesnake actually rattling.