Snake Safety Tips Around The Home
“Snakes are part of nature and play an important role in controlling several species including problematic ones like rodents. They are no less important than any other form of wildlife.” – Johan Marais
With summer on our doorsteps, so it seems are the snakes too. As snakes are coming out of their hibernation, they are starting to make more and more appearances not only out and about on hikes, but also around residential neighbourhoods.
According to Jason Arnold, a snake expert hailing from Durban, the peak season in South Africa runs from September to November as this is the breeding season when snakes tend to be quite active, going around in search of mates. Snakes are also still very active between December and February because of the heat. Then peaks again between March and May as winter approaches and they get out and about to try to get more food to stock their fat reserves and sun themselves as much as possible before the cold sets in.
All snake experts agree that people should never attempt to catch or kill a snake – that is exactly how many people end up getting bitten. Keep a safe distance from any snake – 5m or more – or just move away.
Dangerous snake species to look out for
There are about 160 snake species in South Africa. But only 5 are considered medically significant, owing to their potentially life-threatening venom and are more commonly encountered across South Africa, some more than others. The 5 significant snakes, are the Cape Cobra, Puff Adder, Rinkhals, Boomslang and the Mozambique Spitting Cobra.
There are various variations within the species, all equally dangerous, including:
- Adders/vipers (puff adder, Gaboon viper, night adder and berg adder)
- Mambas (black mamba, green mamba)
- Cobras (Cape cobra, Mozambique spitting cobra, snouted cobra, forest cobra)
- Rinkhals, boomslang and twig/vine snake
Most of these snakes have specific ranges, but some are found throughout the whole of Southern Africa.
What is also important to take note of, is how the venom reacts. The Cape cobra’s venom is neurotoxic – meaning it affects the nerves; a puff adder’s venom is cytotoxic, causing cell damage and tissue destruction; and the boomslang’s venom is haemotoxic, stopping blood from clotting which means increased difficulty in stopping a bite wound from bleeding.
The African Snakebite Institute have snake safety courses, some handy posters and information for snakes across South Africa’s provinces too. As well as an app that is available for Apple & Android phones.
What you should do if you find a snake in your house
1. The first, and most important thing to do, is to leave the snake alone. A snake will not attack if not provoked. When a snake does attack, it’s more than likely that the snake found it necessary to defend itself. Do not lash out at the snake with violence, as many times, the snake is harmless to you.
2. Call in an expert. These people are qualified to handle snakes and have the necessary tools and knowledge to do so.
3. Keep an eye on the snake from a safe distance, and keep your pets away as well.
4. If your pet gets bitten by a snake, it is as important to identify the type of snake, as it is to seek veterinary treatment as quickly as possible.
Treating Snake Bites
The most important thing to do in any snakebite is to get the victim to the nearest hospital with a trauma unit. Keep the person calm – a raised heart rate will circulate the venom faster. Never apply a tourniquet as this can cause complications. If the person stops breathing, you should administer artificial respiration.
A good idea is to get a book on snakes and snakebite and familiarise yourself with the latest first aid procedures. African Snake Bite Institute mobile app may also be good to have here.
Phone the Poisons Information Helpline number on 0861 555 777 for advice on what to do in the event of a snake bite. Remember it is always useful to know what type of snake has been involved. Provide as much information on the incident as possible (time of the bite, the type of snake involved – if it can be identified, and any information on the patient’s reaction to the bite, bearing in mind that a bite by a non-venomous snake can also result in a patient showing symptoms of shock and anxiety or angst.
- In case of a Cape cobra or mamba bite, you might want to apply a wide pressure bandage above the bite site to slow the spread of venom to the heart and lungs. NEVER use this on viper or adder bites, since it causes swelling and the bandage will cause more damage.
- Call for help immediately or take the victim to the closest emergency room. You should know where your local anti-venom is being kept and take the victim to that hospital directly – do not waste valuable time for the anti-venom to come to you. Call the hospital en route to inform them of your arrival.
- Take someone who knows CPR with you – since the life-threatening symptoms of some bites can start as early as 30 minutes after the bite, CPR might have to be administered.
- Always keep the bitten limb below the heart – it slows blood flow and the spread of venom.
- Very important: Do not give the victim anything to eat or drink, especially alcohol! Alcohol will actually speed up the absorption of venom.
- Snake bites are very painful but do not give any pain medication unless a doctor tells you so.
- The bitten limb may swell, so remove all constricting clothing, jewellery or shoes.
Contact Numbers for Snake Removal
As much as we fear snakes, we must remember that most often, they are more scared of us than we of them.