The killing of a seemingly insignificant black snake in the Georgia wilderness is being investigated as a full-on felony case that could land the culprit in prison.
Rocky — yes, this snake had a name — was an endangered Eastern indigo participating in a state study that tracked his every slither via a transponder, according to the University of Georgia’s Coastal Ecology Lab.
That’s how experts know he’s dead. Rocky was “poached illegally” Feb. 17 on state land, the lab said in a Feb. 27 Facebook post. Details of how he died were not released and the location is being kept secret.
“We can not overstate how disheartening it is when we lose snakes to human persecution and that is why we dedicate ourselves to wildlife conservation,” lab officials wrote.
“Science is a critical part of the solution, but ... educating people about not killing native animals will be what ultimately creates change.”
Eastern Indigo snakes are harmless to humans, but can be intimidating when threatened, experts say. They are the nation’s longest “native snake,” growing to 84 inches — or 7 feet — and are known to “flatten their heads, hiss and vibrate their tails,” the Savannah River Ecology Lab reports.
Among the benefits attributed to the species: They eat venomous rattlesnakes and cottonmouths, the lab says.
Indigos are endangered (largely due to habitat loss) and protected by the Endangered Species Act, Georgia officials said. That means killing Rocky was a felony offense “punishable by fines, prison time, and the revocation of hunting privileges,” the lab wrote.
“The Georgia DNR Law Enforcement Division currently is looking into the death and has asked the public for any information about the incident,” lab officials said. “If you have any information about Rocky’s death and would like to make an anonymous tip, please call the DNR Ranger Hotline 1-800-241-4113.”
News of Rocky’s death prompted outrage on social media, with the Facebook post racking up nearly 5,000 reactions, comments and shares.
“They are amazing snakes. It is a shame to watch their numbers decline,”Jeremy Milstead wrote. “If people only knew how gentle and docile these guys are. They’re not out to hurt anyone.”