Sunday, April 18, 2021

Snake collectors shield humans from venomous fangs

With the snake season in its throes, Botswana’s popular snake capturers, Snake Relocation Gaborone (SRG), have caught 63 reptiles this year alone.

The haul included a clutch of 34 baby pythons that were found on a ploughing field near Kanye.

Sean Taylor, a snake removal and relocation expert at SRG said that their organization relocates reptiles in and around Gaborone.

The snake capturers travel to other areas when there is a venomous problem snake or a large Python in an area.

Taylor and his organization saw a need to assist in relocating reptiles that were being killed indiscriminately due to lack of knowledge and fear.

With about five years of experience in snake handling and relocating, Taylor explained that SRG’s average snake capture per month stands at 15.

The numbers, however, decline in autumn and accelerate before the peak of winter. SRG catches most snakes just before and during the rains and just before the winter months when the legless reptiles are moving to feed before colder months. Peak snake season runs from January till about April, and soon there will be fewer snake sightings.  

Asked how many reptiles, SRG has captured in 2021, Taylor said: “So far this year, we have caught 63 Reptiles. This included a clutch of 34 Baby Pythons (diTlhware) that were spotted on a ploughing field near Kanye.”

In all his snake relocation years, Taylor believes that people find many of the snakes when gardening, with some in garages and houses. “We find that when there is a lot of building in an area and clearing is happening, snakes are disturbed and move into residential areas. We believe that this has led to an increase of snakes being seen due to the rapid infrastructure being built,” he stated.

On average, Taylor mentioned that in a month, they receive around 15 calls to relocate snakes, “and I would say 70% of calls are for Venomous Snakes.”

On the Venomous Snakes, Taylor expressed that the Mozambique Spitting Cobra ( Kake yo o foufatsang) and the Snouted Cobra ( Kake) are the most prominent. On the non-venomous snakes, the Brown House Snake, Southern African Python (Thlware) and Stripe-bellied Sand Snake ( Mosenene , Mosilinyane ) are often caught by SRG. “At present, we seem to be catching many Mozambique Spitting Cobras and Snouted Cobras,” he stated. “The Mozambique Spitting Cobra has a predominant Cytotoxic venom which causes tissue damage or necrosis, and the Snouted Cobra has Predominant Neurotoxic Venom which causes muscle paralysis and affects the ability to breathe,” he continued, adding that both snakes are known as Very Dangerous Snakes.

Nonetheless, not all snake bites will always result in a fatal incident. Taylor said that less than 20% of people bitten will require antivenom as these snakes can control the amount of venom they inject and can dry bite, which is sometimes the case with the Puff Adder. Referring to the Mozambique Spitting Cobra and the Snouted Cobra, Taylor said “Polyvalent antivenom is used for these two Snakes if required and Polyvalent Anti Venom is available at most Hospitals in Gaborone.” He also added that the quantities of antivenom changes in Hospitals as they would either use them or they could expire as Anti Venom expires after a 3 year period.

SRG receives most calls to capture a snake from Gaborone and its periphery.

“large amounts are from Tlokweng, Mmokolodi, Notwane, Phakalane and Oodi,” Taylor said. Quizzed on the fate of his slithering pals, Taylor said of those captured, “some are taken to Mmokolodi and kept for educational purposes, but many are released.”

SRG has a few friends with farms who are happy to release Snakes on their properties. Approved by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP), SRG relocates and captures snakes for free. “We do ask people who are willing to contribute to make a donation to Mokolodi Nature Reserve Reptile Park so that the money can be used to assist feed and house the reptiles being used for educational purposes.” On the educational aspect, at this point, SRG offers Snake Handling Courses from Mokolodi Nature Reserve. “All proceeds go to the Reptile Park, Taylor emphasized. The one-day course covers theory and practical handling of Snakes. On the 28th of February, SRG hosted a Snake Handling Course at Mokolodi Nature Reserve which saw, 30 Participants at the Education Centre and 14 Children at a Snake Education talk at the boma.

SRG has never been confronted with a snake bite incident prompting relocatuion.

“We have had incidents where dogs have either been bitten or spat in the eyes,” Taylor said. In the case where a caller is bitten by a snake, the professional snake handler said SRG has an antivenom used in a hospital setting.

Antivenom is stored in below room temperature conditions such as in a fridge so it is not readily stored with SRG.

“We do, however, have a Snakebite First Aid Kit in the vehicle when attending call outs,” Taylor added. SRG does not treat snake bites, except on themselves, using pressure bandages or BP Cuffs depending on the species. Taylor thus exhorted that snakebite victims need to get to a hospital immediately. Pets need to get to a vet as soon as possible.

Before calling SRG and while awaiting their arrival on any snake sighting, Taylor one must keep an eye on the reptile from a safe distance of about four to five metres and lock pets away so they will not attack the snake.

“If in, say a bathroom, close the door and if possible, close the window from the outside using a broom handle or something long enough so hands are not near the aperture when closing,” he continued.  

Taylor advises watching the snake through the window to observe where it goes. The longest snake ever captured by SRG was a 4.5 meters python. One type, the reticulated python is the world’s longest known snake with lengths of up to ten metres. Second, in SRG’s record lengths is a three-metre Black Mamba with a maximum length of 4.3 metres.

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