San Francisco Garter Snake is coming to San Francisco Zoo

Posted by on Thu, May 26, 2005

San Francisco Zoo

The US Fish & Wildlife Service and San Francisco Zoo are cooperating to bring five male/female pairs of San Francisco Garter snakes to the zoo where we can see the endangered reptiles up close.  The SF Garter Snake is often described as of the most beautiful snakes in the world, and it’s certainly one of the most newsworthy. The presence of the snake can be a real problem for any development because under California law, unlike the California Red-Legged Frog, there is no legal way to mitigate a "take" of SF Garter Snakes.

San Franscisco Garter Snake no longer exists in San Francisco. It can only be found in San Mateo County.

Click "Read more" to see the USFWS press release.

US Fish & Wildlife Service press release

On Thursday, June 2, 2005 at 1 p.m., the San Francisco Zoo will host a unique event to mark the return of one of California’s most endangered and beautiful species to its native city. United States Assistant Secretary of Interior P. Lynn Scarlett will join San Francisco Zoo Director Manuel Mollinedo and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the first public viewing of recently acquired San Francisco garter snakes. Scarlett, Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget and Deputy Secretary-Designate, and officials from local and national environmental agencies will elaborate on the importance of this effort and bring awareness to the plight of this endangered species. The San Francisco garter snake has been absent from North American zoos since 2003 and is the focus of new efforts to increase wild populations along the San Francisco peninsula.

"We are delighted to partner with the San Francisco Zoo to bring this amazing species back to its home city," said Steve Thompson, manager of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s California/Nevada Operations Office. "It will take partners like the Zoo and other public and private organizations, as well as residents of the San Francisco peninsula, to bring this snake back to full health in the wild."

San Francisco’s own native snake, the San Francisco garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis tetrataenia) is a subspecies of the common garter snake and was found historically from San Francisco to Santa Cruz. Today, with a wild population limited to coastal San Mateo County and other small pockets, the San Francisco garter snake is considered critically endangered in the wild because of the loss of habitat. In an effort to actively conserve and recover the San Francisco garter snake, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service established an internal San Francisco Garter Snake Working Group in 2003 to design and implement specific conservation actions while updating the recovery plan. The working group identified and developed a multi-phase process for restoring and enhancing captive and wild San Francisco garter snake populations.

The first phase of the plan is to restore and enhance habitat for the wild population and the second is to restore the North American captive population by importing stock from Europe and placing them in zoos accredited by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association. Subsequent phases include the possibility of zoos holding wild snakes for short periods as habitat restoration projects progress, a possible "head-start" program for juvenile snakes, and preparations for captive propagation, if such measures are called for to prevent the extinction of the species in the wild.

In April, 10 juvenile San Francisco garter snakes of five mixed gender pairs were flown from the Netherlands to the U.S.  These ten snakes will be used as part of a public education effort that will include classroom visits from the ZooMobile, on-site presentations, inclusion in VIP tours and interpretive graphic displays, that are intended to inform local residents about the plight of the snake. The pencil-thin, 18-inch snakes, with turquoise bellies and distinctive red and black striped bodies, will eventually grow to four feet in length.  These snakes will be available for the public to see up-close at the Zoo’s Koret Animal Resource Center, part of the Children’s Zoo.

"The San Francisco garter snake is one of the most beautiful snakes in the world," said Manuel Mollinedo, Executve Director and President.  "This is our native snake and we want people to recognize this as a special animal that may occur in their own backyard. Hopefully, people will be inspired to protect it for future generations."

The San Francisco garter snake was listed as a federally-endangered species in 1967 and as a state-endangered species in May 1971 due to habitat loss from urbanization and agricultural conversion in areas of established garter snake populations. The drainage of ponds and marsh sites where snakes feed, in addition to changes in water quality and/or the introduction of the bullfrog into its ecosystem, has resulted in a corresponding decline in its core foods: the threatened California red-legged frog and the Pacific tree frog. The captive population, once thriving in the 1990’s, went extinct in 2003 when the last remaining snake in captivity died at the San Francisco Zoo, where they were once considered the jewels of the collection.


    That’s a great picture of the San Francisco Garter Snake.  Believe it or not, I have heard from some locals that they don’t believe there ever really was a San Francisco Garter Snake, that it was just a legend, a misidentified Coastside Garter Snake. 
  Belief systems can be interesting, however.  Don’t be surprised when they now believe you’ve “planted” a fake picture…

Yep, that’s the San Francisco Garter Snake. We used to catch (and release) those back in the 1950s and early ‘60s in Pacifica’s gully, before Fairmont was built.  There was an abundance of wildlife in the gully, with its creeks, flora (beautiful fragrant wildflowers) and fauna - lizards, mice, frogs, birds, snakes, various types of other reptiles, plus amphibians, etc.  It’s little wonder that there was some resentment when developers came, in and built the upscale (at the time) Fairmont homes next to Westview.  We had mice for a year while that was going on. But I digress from the topic.