Today is World Snake Day, an international celebration of these unique and often maligned reptilian creatures and an opportunity to learn about the role these animals play in the world around us. In the Windsor/LaSalle area the Ojibway Prairie Provincial Nature Reserve is at the centre of snake society; Part of a complex of hundreds of hectares of natural lands. Unfortunately, not all is well in this ‘snake sanctuary’.
A few weeks ago Wildlife Preservation Canada’s Ojibway Prairie Reptile Recovery team set out for what was planned to be a simple garbage clean-up at the Ojibway Prairie. Unfortunately, the crew found much more than they bargained for: The team would stumble upon mounds of trash, mangled and torn sleeping bags and abandoned tents across more than ten different illegal campsites at the park.
Ojibway Prairie is a vital remnant of Windsor’s original tallgrass prairie and savanna ecosystem, and provides habitat for six types of snakes, including three Species at Risk: the massasauga rattlesnake, Butler’s gartersnake and eastern foxsnake. The massasauga, in particular, in one of the most endangered reptiles in Essex County, and sure to disappear if we don’t help recover its population. The discovery of the campsites provided a clear message to the Wildlife Preservation Canada crew: even though we have set aside a modest amount of natural habitat, the massasauga and its prairie companions are still being encroached upon, this time from within the very park set aside for their protection.
“Windsor boasts the largest protected tallgrass prairie and savanna remnant in all of Ontario. These are globally rare ecosystems, so it’s quite a shock to see the park being disrespected by residents this way”, says Jonathan Choquette, Wildlife Preservation Canada Lead Biologist based in Windsor.
The mounds of refuse took two Wildlife Preservation Canada’s interns an entire week to cleanup and cart out of the sensitive ecosystem. After days of hard work, the team managed to remove and dispose of over 230 kg of waste. The take home message for park users is to please respect what little endangered species habitat we have left in our region. Our Ojibway Prairie is a special place – a nature reserve for plants, snakes and other wildlife. It’s not a garbage dump!
-Jonathan Choquette and Ben Eisner