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Placer High loses its fiercest biology lesson

Rattlesnake is more than 30 years old
By: Amber Marra, Journal Staff Writer
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A rattlesnake that has called Placer High School's biology classes home for more than three decades will soon be relocated under an order from the school district.

Striker is a Northern Pacific Rattlesnake that has spent its 30 years, 7 months on earth in a locked cage in Doug Stryker's biology classroom.

It's easy to tell that the rattlesnake got its name from Stryker, who said a student presented him with it in 1982. The student found Striker in a den near New Airport Road shortly after it was born.

Stryker said Northern Pacific Rattlesnakes don't lay eggs. The eggs are instead kept inside the mother until the baby rattlesnakes are ready to be born.

"He was just a little, tiny guy," Stryker said.

Having the rattlesnake in the classroom fell in line with how Stryker thinks biology should be taught. He has also had a king snake, a boa constrictor, a frog and turtles in the classroom.

"It's just something I believe in as a biology teacher. Biology is the study of living things, after all," he said.

Over the years he has taught students how anti venom is made and about how to tell the difference between a gopher snake and a rattlesnake. He also had his students write a critical thinking paper on rattlesnake roundups in Texas.

"I felt that the kids should know about them in this area," Stryker said.

Striker was never brought out of his cage during class and was only fed after class was over when only students who wanted to watch it swallow a rat or mouse were around. Stryker only removes the snake from its cage when it needs to be cleaned, and he does that when no one is around.

"I've been very cognizant of the safety issue," he said.
Stryker retired in 2008 and since then has been the rattlesnake's caretaker.

But two weeks ago, Dave Horsey, superintendent of Placer Union High School District, said the rattlesnake must be removed from the high school.

"It has been there awhile, it's locked in a cage, and a teacher who has retired had it and used it for educational purposes," Horsey said. "That teacher is no longer there and I don't feel it is being used for any educational purpose at this point in time, so I asked it to be removed from campus."

Horsey used to be principal at Placer High and said in all his years in the school district there has never been a complaint or an incident regarding the snake.

One of the problems, however, lies in the fact that the snake is listed as a dangerous animal by the Schools Insurance Group, the consortium that covers Placer Union High School District and many other school districts.

With the snake on campus at Placer High the insurance liability could be increased to $50,000.

"No snake is worth $50,000, no matter the educational value," Horsey said.

So now Stryker is working to find a new home for his rattlesnake. He is working with Wildlife Rescue to find a place for Striker, as he doesn't want to release it back into the wild after being in captivity for 30 years.

After all that time, Stryker is melancholy about Placer High School's resident rattlesnake making its final exit.

"It's part of me," Stryker said.

Contact Amber Marra at amberm@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @Amber_AJNews.