A man is recovering after being bitten by a rattlesnake that he tried to pick up with barbecue tongs in the Temescal Canyon area of Riverside County over the weekend, officials said Monday.
Firefighters responded around 5:15 p.m. Saturday after the incident was reported on a property in the Sycamore Creek development, which is south of Corona, according to a news release from the Riverside County Department of Animal Services.
The man was bitten near the thumb on his left hand while he apparently attempted to pick up the venomous snake with a pair of barbecue tongs in an effort to protect children who were in the area, said John Welsh, an Animal Services spokesperson.
Firefighters treated the man on scene before transporting to him a nearby hospital.
By Monday, he said he was doing “remarkably well” and expected to be released from the hospital later in the day, according to Welsh.
The victim has “been around snakes most of his life, hence his daring actions,” Welsh said in an email. The spokesperson added that the man told him the tongs he used were 14 inches in length, but joked they were evidently, “Not long enough.”
Meanwhile, Animal Services was called out to the scene Saturday evening to deal with the rattler.
Officer Mike McGree responded and located the snake coiled near some bushes. Equipped with tongs that reach about 5 feet and a humane storage bucket, he set about trying to trap the reptile.
Meanwhile, a crowd had gathered to watch, with some whipping out their cellphones to take photos and film the interaction, according to McGee. Even after capturing the snake with his tongs, however, the officer was concerned that he didn’t have a tight enough grip on it — especially as at least one spectator got a little too close for comfort.
“One man had gotten too close with his phone and I had to tell him to move back because I wasn’t sure if I had a firm grip,” he said, according to the release.
The snake wiggled and flailed — “much like a bass does when caught on a line” — once the tongs were around it, according to McGee. He shook the snake loose in the bucket and then put a lid on top, a move that elicited some cheers from the crowd.
“Some of the children were saying, ‘bye, Mr. Snake,’” McGee recalled.
Ultimately, the officer decided it would be unsafe to release the rattlesnake near the community, so the animal was later euthanized.
“We try to release rattlesnakes within one mile of where we remove it from, but it was highly likely this snake might end up in one of the adjacent homes again,” he explained. “I didn’t believe a routine release would be safe this time.”
The area has seen an uptick of rattlesnake sightings in recent weeks as the weather begins to warm up. McGee himself has responded to at least four calls in the past few weeks, safely removing and releasing two of the snakes, according to Welsh.
But when it comes to dealing with rattlesnakes or other dangerous reptiles, Animal Services Commander Chris Mayer warned the public against using items such as cooking utensils to remove them.
“A coiled rattlesnake can strike the length of its body and the bites are painful and, in some rare cases, fatal,” Mayer said.
People who spot a rattler are advised to stay a minimum of 10 feet away from the snake, according to a guide from the Riverside County Department of Animal Service. If on a walk, they should go around the area or change routes, and if at home, they should use a water hose and spray the snake from a safe distance.
And pet owners should always keep their dog on a leash that is 6 feet or shorter and not allow them to wander, officials said.
More tips on what to do when encountering a rattlesnake, as well as how to make a yard more snake-proof, can be found on the agency’s website.