Who you gonna call? … Snake rescuers!11th Feb 2020
If you see a snake – firstly – don’t panic! Most of the time snakes are far more frightened of you than you are of them. That’s hard to remember when a three-metre mamba rears up in front of you on a path, opening its inky black mouth, but take it from me it is terrified of you.
The absolute indisputable Golden Rule of what to do when encountering a snake is to Stand Still! And then, hopefully, the snake will take the initiative and escape if you give it the chance.
First – think prevention
The only reason a snake will enter a property is to chase prey, find water or seek shelter. Snakes are attracted to dark, cool and unattended areas; they will be attracted to sheets of corrugated iron, lengths of conduiting, building rubble, firewood, garden refuse, rock piles and rubbish heaps. Snakes feed on lizards, rodents and frogs, and will be attracted to properties that provide a sanctuary for these animals. Chicken coops and rabbit pens also attract snakes. Reduce the chance of a snake deciding to become a tenant on your property – make it less attractive (to snakes, at least) by keeping your property neat and free from piles of rubble. Pet foods and household garbage left outside overnight attract rodents, which, in turn, may attract snakes.
Search and rescue
If a snake has entered your house or property, and you feel uncomfortable about removing it yourself, there are people you can call to come and safely relocate the unwanted guest. Usually snake rescuers won’t come out if the snake is not in sight. ‘I saw a brown snake on my lawn a few hours ago’ usually means the snake won’t ever be seen again.
When calling out a rescuer, having driven a couple of thousand unnecessary kilometres over the years going to rescue snakes that were long gone, please remember to have someone watching the snake from a safe distance until the rescuer gets there, especially if you have to leave the area when making the call. This is so that the search and capture become easier when they arrive.
Also, a brief description of the snake’s length, colour and body patterns can be extremely useful in ascertaining the species involved and the urgency required. Remember, all rescuers are volunteers, and often have to leave work to come out. So a slug eater in a garden bed is not exactly an emergency, but a cobra in a child’s bedroom is. I once had to remove a snake from inside a child’s bed, with the child still in it. No one knew the species until I lifted the sheet. Luckily for all concerned, it was a mole snake.
I have been out to rescue many deadly earthworms, lethal toy snakes, highly venomous hosepipes, and even a rattlesnake in a roof at 1am, which turned out to be child’s rattle moving in a through-draft. Kids are always fascinated by snakes, and that’s why the majority of snakebite victims are children. A few years ago, a young lad found a snake on a nearby vlei and brought it home, housing it in a fish tank with towel on top. Needless to say, the snake escaped. Ouma went for a late-night constitutional, saw what she thought was the boy’s toy snake lying in the passage and, muttering imprecations about the failures of millennials to tidy up, kicked the snake. It immediately hissed loudly, inflated its neck and fled into a bathroom, and I was called to rescue a large boomslang – Africa’s most venomous snake, drop for drop.
The most annoying call outs are when I’m called for a snake, only to arrive and find it chopped into pieces or bludgeoned to death, the person having lied to me on the phone, wanting me to remove the dead snake … once I was so angry that I went home to fetch my 5.5-metre reticulated python and told them to chop that into pieces!
Who you gonna call?
Remember, if you encounter a snake, stand still and don’t panic. This gives the snake a chance to escape harmlessly. If the snake needs removal, call one of the following numbers:
Western Cape: Willem 082 385 1589 or Gary 082 639 4310
KwaZulu-Natal: Jason 082 745 6375
Gauteng: Heidi 083 374 7087
All other areas: Call Heidi at Snakebite Assist, 083 374 7087, or check out www.africansnakebiteinstitute.com/snake-removals-information/