Public education for rattlesnakes


The fear of snakes is widespread, however, through the efforts of education programs and other initiatives, the attitude to snakes is gradually changing for the better, even with regards poisonous species such as the American rattlesnakes.

Of all of the educational programs involving rattlesnakes, one of the most effective has been that established as part of the Aruba Island Rattlesnake Species Survival Plan (SSP). The Aruba Island rattlesnake Crotalus unicolor is endemic to Aruba, an island located off the Venezuelan coast in the southern Caribbean. It is listed as Critically Endangered (IUCN 2007). Historically this rattlesnake ranged over the entire island (Odum 1992) but it is now largely restricted to a 62 square km core area in the undeveloped arid island interior, inhabiting dry rocky hillsides and adjacent rocky, sandy fields with cactus and thorn scrub.

Aruba, despite its small size (182 square km), has a population of about 75,000 people and although most live on the coast, human-rattlesnake interactions are inevitable. In light of the rarity of the snake, the Aruba Island Rattlesnake SSP was initiated. An important component was the formation and initiation of an education and public relations program about the rattlesnake and its importance to the citizens of Aruba. This education program and its outcomes are summarized here.


The education and public relations program about the Aruba Island rattlesnake was initiated in 1988-89 in conjunction with ongoing field research (Odum & Goode 1992). The primary goal was to acquaint the citizens of Aruba with the flora and fauna of their native ecosystem, whilst emphasizing the importance of their rattlesnake. The public relations campaign primarily targeted adults, while education programs focused on school age children.

Public relations campaign: Contacts were made with the local media, resulting in many articles in newspapers and magazines. Numerous television and radio interviews were also broadcast. A great deal of time was spent talking with local people. These campaigns resulted in an increased awareness of the existence of the rattlesnake among the citizens of Aruba and a general positive attitude toward the animal (Odum & Goode 1992).

Education program: The education program was geared towards lower and middle school students, and began with the establishment of a series of teacher workshops to introduce educators to the uniqueness of the Aruba Island ecosystem and its special challenges for conservation. The initial workshops led to a series of Aruba Environmental Education workshops that have continued to the present day. Educational materials have been produced and cover a wide variety of environmental topics, along with checklists of the birds, reptiles and amphibians of Aruba. Educational posters are also being developed for distribution.

By their nature, the success of such education and public relations programs are difficult to evaluate and quantify. One measure of the success of the Aruba Island rattlesnake SSP education and public relations program is the amount of cooperation that now exists between SSP members and the different government and non-governmental organizations on the island. Furthermore, in 1997 the Aruba Government designated around 19% of the island as the Arikok National Park, its primary purpose being for wildlife conservation. The park encompasses most of the current habitat for the rattlesnake and supports populations of other endemic animals and plants. In addition, SSP personnel are teaching basic rattlesnake natural history to park employees and training them on the use of technical equipment to monitor the rattlesnake population. In what may be one of the most unique indicators of growing public awareness, The Central Bank of Aruba now issues paper currency that illustrates native wildlife species; the Aruba Island rattlesnake is displayed on the 25 Florin bill.

While there have been significant advances in the education of the public toward the positive aspects of rattlesnakes and other snake species, there is still a long way to go, and much work remains to be completed. Although the efforts of the Aruba Island Rattlesnake SSP are having a positive effect on public perception, human-induced impacts such as habitat destruction still threaten the long-term future of the Aruba Island rattlesnake.


IUCN (2007) 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Odum R.A. (1992) Population and habitat viability analysis. In: Odum R.A. (ed.): International symposium and workshop on the conservation and research of the Aruba Island rattlesnake. Toledo Zoological Society, Toledo, OH, USA.

Odum R.A. & Goode M.J. (1992) The Crotalus durissus unicolor SSP, a multifaceted approach. In: Odum R.A. (ed.): International symposium and workshop on the conservation and research of the Aruba Island rattlesnake. Toledo Zoological Society, Toledo, OH, USA.

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