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Dozens of rare snakes released into woods near London in conservation first for region

Conservation officials released dozens of freshly-hatched snakes from a rare native species Monday at a secret location just outside London's city limits in a bid to prop up a species in decline. 

33 Eastern Hog nosed snakelets were released in a secret location outside London

A tiny eastern hog-nosed snake rests in the hand of a conservation official shortly before being released into the wild. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Conservation officials released dozens of freshly-hatched snakes from a rare native species Monday at a secret location just outside London's city limits in a bid to prop up a species in decline. 

Sometimes known as "puff adders" the eastern hog-nosed snake can be found throughout most of eastern North America, from southwestern Ontario to the southern tip of Florida. 

What makes the species unique is its ability to inflate itself and make a hissing noise when it feels threatened in a defensive display so effectively that it makes the species resemble a cobra, even though it's actually harmless. 

Snake will play dead rather than bite

An eastern hog nosed snake emerges from its shell, the reptile is a threatened species thanks to habitat loss, road mortality and persecution by humans. (Upper Thames River Conservation Authority)

It's for this reason the reptile finds itself often misunderstood and, at times, persecuted by humans, who mistakenly believe its as deadly as its cobra cousin, when in reality the non-venomous snake will actually play dead rather than bite. 

Whether its well deserved or not, the eastern hog-nosed snake is a reptile with a bad rap and as such has been on the decline for years thanks to a combination of persecution, habitat loss and ending up as road kill.  

It's why conservation officials with the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority are so keen to give the species a hand up.

Snakes 'don't appeal to everybody'

Dozens of rare snakes released in woods near London in conservation first 1:52

"Snakes in general don't appeal to everybody, but they have their own beauty," said Scott Gillingwater, a biologist with the Upper Thames Conservation Authority. 

"They have their own importance in our ecosystem and I think they need to be respected just as much as a panda or a whale." 

Gillingwater said conservation officials were lucky enough to stumble upon a clutch of eggs belonging to the rare species. They then took the eggs and moved them indoors, under the warmth of an incubator, until they hatched. 

Snakes were chipped before release

While there are no exact counts on the eastern hog-nosed snake, conservation officials say habitat loss and mistaken identity have made the species rare in southwestern Ontario. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

On Monday, conservation officials released the snakes back into the area where their eggs were first discovered. 

There's no firm numbers on how many of the snakes are left in Ontario, but conservation officials say they're extremely rare thanks to predators and human activity. 

"It's a very rare species, especially in this part of the province," Gillingwater said. 

The tiny snakes are expected to live anywhere between 10 to 15 years if they survive and were all fitted with a microchip so that scientists can track them if they're ever re-caught. 

About the Author

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca