Releasing baby snakes

One problem with catching snakes in the wild and bringing them home as a pet is that some of them are live-bearing (such as garter, brown, red-bellied and water snakes), and many of them are pregnant when caught. What, then, do you do with the babies? A reader named Chantal asks whether they can be released back to the wild from which their mother came.

My answer is a qualified yes — but there are three very important caveats.

One, the babies must be released exactly where their mother was captured. “In the wild” can mean many things to many people, and unfortunately to some people it means in the nearby park for an animal whose native territory is a thousand miles away. It’s very important to avoid artificially messing up the gene pool by releasing them as close to where they’re supposed to be as possible. At least within a couple of miles — which is to say that if the exact location is not safe (for example, the mother was found in a parking lot), the closest safe area will do.

Two, the babies must not have come into contact with other snakes in captivity — especially with captive-bred snakes. Every snake carries its own collection of parasites and pathogens: captive-bred snakes have a different batch, particularly if they’re from exotic climes. Exposure to such pathogens could wreak havoc on local wild populations.

And three, it must be legal to do so: some jurisdictions prohibit the release of wildlife back into the wild, no doubt for the above reasons.