Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Snake in the Lake, Part 2

Have you seen this snake?

Just over a week ago, I reported that a big, scary anaconda snake had taken up residence in Lake Hopatcong in New Jersey.  Now I don't know what to think.

Locals had some fun with the story initially.  Snake tee shirts were printed up and sold, and cupcakes were marketed with gummy snakes in the frosting.  That sort of thing.

But business owners who cater to summer tourists weren't laughing.  They worried, with some justice,  that swimmers and boaters might stay away if they believed a deadly Amazonian snake was lurking in the lake.

Now police and New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) say they've had it with this snake business.  They say there is no evidence of an anaconda -- no photographs, no molted skin, nothing.  They want everyone to calm down and get over themselves.  No snake, nowhere.

So we have two sides here, the yes-snake people and the no-snake people.

Here are their arguments as best I can tell. 

No Snake. Environmental officials set up Havahart traps, designed to capture but not kill the snake, in various spots around the lake.  The traps were baited with chicken.  No snakes went for the bait.  (No mention of the possibility that the snake doesn't like chicken.)

Yes Snake. A reputable, lifelong Hopatcong resident with a 28-foot boat claims that he and 11 passengers saw the snake two weekends ago.  He describes what he thought was a duck swimming in the lake followed by several ducklings.  Then the "duck" got near his boat, and it became clear that it was a snake with a head the size of a duck's body.
     "The next thing you know it looked like a big fish jumping out of the water, about two feet into the air and twisting to the right.  His head then slapped the water and at the same time his body came out of the water, just like a sea serpent," the man told the local newspaper.

No Snake.  Skeptics are asking why no one on the boat bothered to snap a picture with a cell phone.

Yes Snake.  "We were in such shock seeing this we were standing there like idiots and nobody took a picture," said the boat owner's wife, who corroborated his story. "It humped its back and dove down into the water," she told a reporter.

No Snake.  A DEP spokesman said the "so-called snake expert" (the second person to see the snake and the one who identified it as an anaconda) doesn't know what he is talking about.  He said people from his department, state parks workers, local police, state police marine units and animal control officials have not been able to find an anaconda,  but are continuing to watch the lake just in case.

Yes Snake.  The snake expert, who works for an animal shelter, and the local man who first reported seeing a large snake several times near his home are sticking to their stories.  The snake guy remans certain that it was an anaconda. "I know what I saw," he was quoted as saying this week.
       Now he has stopped his volunteer search for the snake because he is being harassed and, in one case, threatened. He said "People are hunting me down at work.  Business owners are screaming at me saying they're losing business.  Snake owners are screaming at me because they're afraid the state's going to try to pass more legislation." He's had enough of the whole business.

No Snake. The DEP spokesman says that, yes, there may be a snake but it isn't necessarily a non-native exotic anaconda.  He points out that common water snakes can grow as long as six to nine feet.

A nine-foot-long water snake, I think?   Eew.

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