Diverse Costa Rica Keeps Snake Hunter Busy

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Rom called the fer-de-lance "one of the supersnakes I've always wanted to find." Though he did capture one, it was only to remove it to a more remote area safer for both snakes and humans.

"I'm a snake hunter, not a collector," he explains. "The last thing I want to do is hurt one. The thing I love most is to discover snakes in the wild."

A Space For Snakes

Costa Rica still features lots of wild spaces for snakes. The nation's government is known for a progressive environmental policy that has established the nation as a top global ecotourism destination. Over 25 percent of the nation is protected by a system of national parks, refuges, and reserves. Such areas harbor some of Earth's richest biodiversity, an abundance of species who reside astride the narrow isthmus separating North and South America.

Snakes thrive in the country's wet, lush forests, as do the animals that constitute much of their prey. But to continue to protect these wild places and the creatures that call them home, we must better understand them.

Frogs, for example, are essential to the diet of many snake species— yet their status is unclear and sometimes troubling. In 1989 Costa Rica's legendary golden toad apparently became extinct, and many worry that other frog populations may be following. The reasons are unknown, and theories range from global warming to pesticides. Yet the results of plummeting frog populations can be anticipated.

A lack of frogs may well mean a lack of snakes, and the ramifications could follow throughout the food chain. The web of life is complex, and the role of snakes within it is still under study. Whitaker is on the frontline of such efforts, literally taking matters into his own hands by grasping some truly dangerous snakes to find out more about them.

Of course, most of Costa Rica's 1 million annual visitors never see a dangerous snake or any snakes at all. Just the thought of them, however, makes the tropical forests some people's worst nightmare. Not Whitaker. Costa Rica, he determined, was "a snake hunter's dream come true."

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