Snake that swallowed golf ball to be used for environmental education

The Hilton Head Island PacketApril 6, 2012 

BEAUFORT, S.C. — Golf giving you heartburn? It could be a lot worse.

A snake in Beaufort swallowed a golf ball whole this week and was sliding toward a sure and agonizing death, a Titleist wedged tightly in its gut.

But concerned citizens and a skillful surgeon intervened. The yellow rat snake not only found redemption on the operating table, it has slithered into new career. It's gone from chicken coop thief to Lowcountry environmental educator.

The four-foot snake apparently thought it was poaching a fresh egg when it sucked down a Titleist golf ball in a chicken coop in the vicinity of Hermitage Road. Golf balls are sometimes placed in nests to give hens a hint as to where they might do what they're supposed to do.

Lucky for the snake, the couple who saw it trying to cross the road with its unusual load are trained Master Naturalists who earn their living in the great outdoors.

David Gorzynski and Kim Gundler, who own and operate Beaufort Kayak Tours, called Dr. Al Segars, veterinarian with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, and Tony Mills, education director at the nonprofit Lowcountry Institute on Spring Island.

And Dr. Mark Guilloud, veterinarian at Animal Medical Center of the Lowcountry, happened by to return a kayak to a friend. He agreed to treat the snake.

Segars looked online and found the protocol for removing a golf ball from a snake and emailed it to Guilloud.

He and his staff got anesthetic in the snake using a red rubber tube normally used to feed puppies.

Guilloud said he's taken a lot of stuff out of a lot of Beaufort pets in the past 23 years, but never a golf ball from a snake.

"From a dog, I've taken golf balls, hard balls, socks, blankets, Bert and Ernie -- all the kids' toys," he said.

In the 10-minute operation, he sliced through the snake's skin, muscle and stomach to get to the golf ball. After he sewed up all three, the snake nearly died, he said. For a while, it didn't breathe or take oxygen, but suddenly revived.

It was taken to the Nature Center at the Lowcountry Institute, where it is recuperating nicely in a roomy cage. Its stitches will be removed in about two weeks.

Mills, who hosts the "Coastal Kingdom" show about nature on the Beaufort County Channel, says the golf-ball snake is docile and will make a good ambassador in educating people about how special the Lowcountry eco-system is and how every link of the chain is important -- even thieving yellow rat snakes.

"They are important," he said. "They are non-venemous and they do good things, like control rats and mice. Most importantly, the snake has a right to be here."

That's not too much to swallow, is it?

To read more, visit www.islandpacket.com.

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