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Snakebites

A very successful and informative evening was attended by Ingwelala members in Johannesburg in March.

We had the renowned herpetologist, Johan Marais give a talk on snakes, he also briefly touched on the subject of scorpions and spiders.

This is a vast topic, but Johan shared his experiences and gave good practical advice on how to handle snake bites.

Snakebites can be serious and sometimes life threatening, thus they require swift and appropriate action. All the old wives’ tales about snake bite treatment are largely incorrect. Do not attempt to cut and suck the wound and it is not always correct to bandage a wound. You should immediately clean the wound with cool water and apply a sterile gauze, and then get to the nearest hospital as quickly as possible.

Snakebite wounds can vary dramatically from bite to bite and snakes can often in self-defence bite and inject no venom at all or so little it will not do much harm. A doctor needs to do a thorough assessment of the condition of a snakebite victim before anti-venom is administered. The vast majority of snakebite victims who are hospitalised soon after a bite will survive. No more than 15% of snakebite victims require anti-venom.

Of the 173 species of snakes in Southern Africa, only 11% are considered deadly. The very dangerous snakes that we might find at Ingwelala are:


Black Mamba

Mozambique Spitting Cobra

Common Boomslang

Snouted Cobra

Puff Adder

Southern Twig Snake

The Mozambique Spitting Cobra accounts for the vast majority of serious bites followed by the Puff Adder. The Mozambique Spitting cobra’s diet consist of frogs, small mammals, birds and other snakes. It is active on overcast days, but more active at night. It often ends up in people’s houses, mistaking a sleeping person for food and thus there are higher incidents of cobra bites compared to other snakes.

The Black Mamba is often said to be the deadliest snake in the world and with good reason. It is a large and active snake and has a very potent neurotoxic venom and in serious bites the victim could experience severe breathing problems in less than half an hour.

However, there are many misconceptions about the Mamba, for example Black Mamba’s are not by nature an aggressive snake and are in fact quick to avoid people. But, if it is cornered in a small space and cannot escape easily, it will strike readily. When threatened it gapes, exposing the black inner lining of the mouth and it may form a narrow hood.

The vast majority of serious snakebites occur between January and April and during the evening. Around 84% of bites are on the legs below the knee or on the hands. Well over 90% are from the Mozambique Spitting Cobra. These bites are extremely painful and are accompanied by swelling, blisters and tissue damage.

During hot weather snakes keep a low profile as dehydration is a real problem for them and they remain dormant underground or in hollow tree trunks. Once the rain comes they are very active.

Of the 57 back fanged snakes 2 are considered extremely dangerous, the Boomslang and the Twig or Vine Snake. Bites from the twig or vine snakes are very rare, they are well camouflaged and live in trees, hedges and shrubs and are placid unless provoked.

The Boomslang is also found in trees and shrubs but may descend to the ground to bask in the sun. It has a pleasant disposition and will usually only bite if stood on or captured.

The venom glands in both the Boomslang and Twig snake is vastly different from that of the cobra, mamba and adders. They have Duvernoy glands, which means that they have no control over their venom. Thus, in order to envenomate their prey, they chew their prey. The more they chew, the more venom they manage to inject.

The main thing to remember is leave snakes alone and treat them with respect at all times. Do not handle a snake even if you think it is dead, they have a nasty habit of playing dead when they are scared. Wear boots and thick trousers or jeans if you spend a great deal of time outdoors. Never walk barefoot or without a torch at night when camping or visiting facilities in the bush. Do not try to kill or catch a snake if you come across one, throwing rocks or shooting a snake is looking for trouble, don’t either use your braai tongs to try and catch one.

In case of a snakebite emergency, do not attempt to catch or kill the snake- rather take a photograph from a safe distance, to assist with identification.

If you are at Ingwelala radio the duty Manager immediately.

The Communications Portfolio of the Board, chaired by Belinda Scott, is in the process of placing Snake Identification Charts in the Hides on the Ingwelala and Associated Companies properties.

 

by Belinda Scott