Efforts under way to protect venomous snakes

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ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. —

WFTV reporter Christopher Heath found out that the eastern diamondback rattlesnake is at the center of a lawsuit that could stop people from killing them should someone come face-to-face with one.

Experts said that the almost 6-foot-long eastern diamondback can kill a grown man.

"They get big, and they're capable of injecting enormous amounts of venom," said Carl Barden of the Reptile Discovery Center.

Florida's eastern diamondback rattlesnake is one of four snakes from across the United States that is used to make antivenin; the substance doctors use to save the lives of those bitten by venomous snakes.

Two years ago, Torianne Yucak nearly died when she stepped on a diamondback rattlesnake.

"I looked down and I seen this big rattlesnake just sitting right there," said Yucak.

It took 14 vials of antivenin to save her life.

Despite her brush with death, it is the snake that is now at risk.

People are encroaching on land once populated with the snakes.

"The habitat is so fragmented that the species is not able to continue to breed," said Barden.

The falling numbers have drawn a lawsuit demanding the deadly Florida viper be protected by federal law. The concern is as much for the snake as for the disease-carrying animals they protect us from.

"They also prey on the invasive black rat and the invasive Norway rat," said herpetologist James Peters.

Experts said that without the snakes the rodent population will expand, endangering us far more than the snake ever will.

"If you see a snake," said Peters, "leave that snake alone."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service has yet to place the eastern diamondback on the endangered species list.