Dealing with snake encounters

Jared Beaman

As warmer conditions move in during the spring and summer months, an increase in the frequency of snake encounters can be expected.

Snakes, like other reptiles, are ectothermic creatures meaning that they maintain their body temperature primarily from external heat sources such as the sun. This means that they will often seek out warm areas such as roads, footpaths, rocks and on occasion household items such as hot water systems.

If you happen to come across a snake in an inconvenient location such as your backyard or workplace, one of the best options available to you is to contact the Volunteer Rescue Association (VRA).

“One of the jobs that Quirindi VRA does is to assist residents who are concerned about a snake sighted around their house,” explained Quirindi and District Volunteer Rescue Squad Captain Col Stewart. “We have a number of members trained in snake handling and are prepared to assist in the capture and removal of the snake. There are some rules which must be followed, however, to avoid wasting our volunteers’ time and to assist in the capture of the snake.

“The first and obvious one is to not approach the snake. If it is in a position which causes concern e.g. near the house, near where the children are playing etc, then give VRA a call on 0429 910 740.

“The next most important item is to keep an eye on the snake from a safe distance. It is a waste of our volunteers’ time if we leave work to attend to a call and are told that it was in the corner of the yard 15 minutes ago but the caller went inside and has no idea where it is in the yard or if it has long gone,” he added.

Australia is home to about 140 identified species of land snake and a further 32 species of sea snake. Roughly 100 of these species are venomous and a further 12 are toxic enough to cause a human fatality.

“It is very important to remember that very few people die from snake bite in Australia in a year, less than ten. There are however 500 to 600 hospital admissions,” explained Col. “If you are unlucky enough to be bitten, apply a pressure bandage to the bite site, then bandage the entire limb starting at the toes or fingers and bandage upwards over the first bandage to cover as much of the limb as possible. Then use a splint (a piece of wood will do) to prevent the limb from moving.

“If the bite is not on a limb, firm direct pressure to the bite site will assist. It is also useful to mark the position of the bite on the outside of the bandage,” he explained. “Very importantly, seek medical help as soon as possible.”

Col additionally suggests that those bitten by a venomous snake should refrain from removing bandaging once applied, should not apply a tourniquet, not wash, cut or bleed the bite site and not attempt to suck out the venom.

If you would like to learn more about snakes in Australia, the New South Wales Government’s Office of Environment and Heritage provides an insightful factsheet which is available at www.environment.nsw.gov.au/animals/snakes.htm

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