It’s that time of year again. Like any good Australian, with the return of the warmer weather our ‘scaly friends’ will soon be out and about, grabbing food after their winter slumber. Our resident snake charmer and licenced Sydney Wildlife handler, Aaron Holmes shares his top tips for safely interacting with these awesome creatures.
The warm weather has brought out some of our reptilian friends and so has begun the customary panic-attacks from people who don’t understand nor like snakes, not to mention the screams of “BROWN SNAKE” for any little critter that happens to have a slightly brownish tinge.
“Personally, I love snakes! They are the most perfect product of millions of years of evolution on the planet – they are quiet and clean, they mind their own business and they perform a free pest extermination service. They don’t dig up the garden, they don’t wake you up at 5am with loud noises and they don’t eat from the veggie patch.”
Snakes are beginning to wake up, so we need to be mindful when working on our outdoor projects where there is heavy vegetation or long grass. Many of our project sites across the inland western regions of Sydney and Newcastle are natural habitats for many species of snakes.
Snakes are a very big and important part of nature. Without them, we would be overrun with rodents, many of which carry diseases that are harmful to us and our pets. We teach our kids to appreciate the cuteness of joeys, feathery chicks learning to fly and spiky echidnas munching on ants and termites so why do we teach them to fear snakes?
It is wise to teach children to be cautious and respectful of snakes, but please don’t make them paranoid. Children who have an appreciation and respect for snakes are much more likely to be safe around them than those who fear them. Fear creates panic and panic makes people do silly things.
Australia is home to at least 200 species of snakes
There are 12 commonly occurring snakes in the Greater Sydney region.
Most are either non-venomous or only mildly venomous, meaning their venom is NOT medically significant. The few others, despite being classified as ‘dangerously venomous’ are usually in a big hurry to get away from us or tend to stay hidden to avoid any kind of confrontation. The only snake that is a danger to you, is the one you interfere with.
So how do we learn to live peacefully with these scaly critters?
It is pretty rare for a snake to stay in the same spot for too long, unless the conditions are perfect like a good food source or a habitat to thrive in.
Here are my top tips for reducing the chance of running into one of these beautiful creatures.
1. Snakes do not have ears so they cannot detect clapping or shouting that you may be making in an attempt to warn them of your presence.
If you find yourself in overgrown grassed areas, the more vibration to the ground you make, the better. Any plant and machinery in use should afford sufficient vibration to send snakes heading for the hills. Alternatively, stomp as heavy as you can through the grass which should send a message to them to leave.
2. Clean-up clutter on site and around the house remove hiding places by keeping your job site, or property free of debris, woodpiles, and discarded building supplies. This will reduce their desire to stay long-term; if there is nowhere to hide, they won’t stay.
Likewise, don’t leave garbage and food scraps lying around as these attract rats and mice and these rodents are a snake’s smorgasbord. If there is no food for them, they won’t stay.
3. Wear protective gear on a bushwalk, working in long grass or in the garden, be sure to wear sturdy shoes and socks and gardening cloves.
#TIP: don’t leave your shoes or gumboots outside, as snakes and spiders love a nice warm, dark hidey-hole – which is exactly the sanctuary which footwear provides.
4. If a snake enters your work shed or house don’t panic! Ensure the area is clear of children, pets and co-workers and then call a snake catcher. It’s best to keep an eye on the snake’s whereabouts so the snake catcher doesn’t have to search for hours. If you are uncomfortable with this, shut the door and fill the gap underneath the door with a rolled-up towel so the snake doesn’t escape.
5. If you see a snake outside Back away to a safe distance and leave it alone. Most snakes that are sunning themselves will slither off when they sense vibrations.
Contrary to popular belief, snakes don’t want anything to do with people but If you do encounter one that has not seen you and you surprise it, just wait quietly for it to recover itself and let it move off. They are only interested in finding safety and avoiding confrontation, so avoid panicked or quick movements which may frighten them or cause them to strike out in defence.
If you or a colleague are bitten, keep calm and follow these steps:
- Sit quietly, as this will reduce the speed that the venom can move around your body
- Call triple zero (000) for an ambulance
- Apply a pressure immobilisation bandage tightly around the bitten limb. If this isn’t possible because the bite is on the trunk or stomach, apply constant, firm pressure
- If you can, mark the bite area on the outside of the bandage with a sharpie or some mud
- Don’t wash the bite area – venom left on the skin can help identify the snake
Please see St John’s Ambulance Australia quick guide to the first aid management of snake bites
Things to remember
- Never attempt to harm or handle a snake. Most snake bites occur due to inexperienced people attempting to kill or to remove the snake themselves
- Snakes are protected and harming one could result in a hefty fine ($10,000 per offense) and/or jail time (up to 5 years)
- Most importantly – if a snake is brownish in colour, it isn’t always a brown snake!
If you need assistance removing a snake from your work site or your home, please call either of the numbers below.
Sydney Wildlife Rescue 9413 4300 Or Wires 1300 094 737
Aaron Holmes has specialist training and is licenced with Sydney Wildlife in venomous snake capture/rescue and rehabilitation.