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Environment
South Slave

It’s almost snake time at Wood Buffalo. Here are the snake rules.


If you’re an NWT resident who hasn’t yet seen the red-sided garter snakes near Fort Smith, then boy do we have a staycation for you. But listen up, for there are Covid rules.

On Wednesday, Parks Canada – which operates Wood Buffalo National Park, home of said snakes – issued advice to anyone who wants to see the snakes make their annual emergence this spring.

Wait, there are NWT snakes? And they emerge from something?

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Yep. The snakes hang out in “underground karst formations in the vicinity of the Salt River day use area,” Parks Canada said, until it’s time to mate. And then it’s business time. The snakes emerge to mate and find food (in no particular order) and while none have yet been spotted this year – there’s still a lot of snow on the ground – the next two or three weeks is usually when it happens.

These are thought to be the northernmost red-sided garter snakes in Canada and let’s face it, you’re not going anywhere, so snakes it is.

“During the early weeks of spring when the snakes emerge, lucky park visitors are able to watch them from the comfort of the Karstland Trail: an easy loop trail, with stairs and boardwalks, which provides visitors with a close-up look at the garter snakes without having an adverse impact,” Parks Canada says. The trail is just under a kilometre long.

This year, with there being a pandemic on the go, visitors are asked to bear in mind that the snakes could prove a popular attraction and you should keep your distance a) from mating snakes and b) from humans regardless of what they’re up to. Bring hand sanitizer and a mask. If you take the Karstland Trail, Parks Canada wants everyone to go counter-clockwise to help with distancing.

“Do not monopolize the viewing platforms,” said Parks Canada – yes, there are viewing platforms for this – and “give others a chance to look as well.”

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You will know if you see mating red-sided garter snakes because they form a ball, which can be quite the sight. However, you should also watch out for snakes on the roads around the park over the next month or two, especially the Pine Lake Road and Salt Plains Access Road, and you should always give the snakes plenty of space.

Even though we’re sure you were not intending to pick up a ball of mating snakes, to be on the safe side: do not touch the snakes.

Parks Canada said a shelter building at the Salt River day use area is nearly finished but isn’t quite ready. Don’t use it yet, the agency said in a news release – it’s expected to open this summer.

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