If you ask residents of Rotonda West what they like best about living there, many answer by saying “the wild life.”

Most cherish the wide variety of exotic birds, along with sightings of panthers, coyotes, fox, and alligators.

But not everyone thrills to being around all that wildlife.

“We have two kinds of people here. Those who enjoy every wildlife sighting and those who call to say they want it removed,” said Rotonda West Association director Patti Cowan.

“If they’re going to live in Rotonda West, they need to learn to coexist with the animals that were here long before any of us,” she added.

Patti heads the RWA wildlife committee dedicated to helping people better understand and appreciate the creatures in our backyards.

The committee holds monthly nature walks around Broadmoor Park and sponsors informative seminars in the RWA community center.

Recent talks on alligators and snakes have been wildly popular.

Last week’s snake seminar drew upwards of 150 resident with divergent views on the critters that make some cringe.

Master of ceremonies Don Olsen was open about his viewpoint. “I hate snakes,” he said. “I’m terrified of them.”

He told about his encounter with a snake in his back yard while he was weed whacking.

“I backed away slowly but it kept coming toward me. I ran inside where I watched the snake as it was coiled up in the crease of our garage door.

Don said he “lost it” when the snake entered the garage.

He got some laughs when he said, “I ran for my wife and she got it out of there.”

Unlike her husband, Belinda Olsen is fascinated with snakes. “I used to catch snakes when I was a kid,” she said. “People think snakes are out to hurt them but all they are trying to do is to get away from us.”

That was also the message from Jayson Thompson, Charlotte County environmental specialist who gave a riveting two-hour seminar about snakes we encounter locally.

“Snakes are basically rather shy and are more fragile than we give them credit for. They are not willing to fight and will just try to get out of our way,” said the speaker.

In Don’s encounter, the snake wasn’t being menacing, according to the wildlife expert. “It was just trying to get away. You were in the way.”

His goal for the seminar, he said, was to help others better understand snakes.

He said the average fatality from snakebites in the U.S. is only five a year from approximately 7,000 to 8,000 annual snakebites.

He explained how to tell the difference between a venomous snake and a harmless one and how to take steps to keep snakes away from slithering into your home.

Don’t keep your lanai door or garage door open, not even for a few seconds, because that’s just inviting snakes inside, he said.

Don’t plant vegetation against your home, and keep your yard clear of what can provide cover for a snake.

If you do encounter a snake, stop in your tracks and slowly back away, he advised.

While he talked, the wildlife expert cuddled a corn snake that had the audience laughing when the snake wound itself in Jason’s belt loops.

Some weren’t comfortable when he brought in two snakes and encouraged the audience to touch them.

But they couldn’t get enough of listening to him answer questions during the lively session they didn’t want to end.

The snake seminar was another hit in a long string of successes for the wildlife committee.

Up next is a seminar on Florida butterflies presented by Steve Scott of the Peace River Butterfly Society. It will take place at 1 p.m. March 13 at the RWA community center. For more information go to the Rotonda West Wildlife Committee page on Facebook.

Pattie Mihalik is a regular columnist for the Sun. Contact her at newsgirlcomcast.net.

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