Durban - Durban snake catcher, Nick Evans who gets around 20 to 30 calls a day to remove snakes from homes, gardens, factories and plantations is increasingly turn to his phone to help him catch snakes.
Whether it be at the scene of a call-out or while rushing to one, Evans cannot do it without the apps on his phone.
Evan’s, the founder of KZN Amphibian & Reptile Conservation and who will be the star of his own TV show, Snake Season on DSTV’s People’s Weather Channel in September says that after recieving a call about a snake it to confirm that the caller can still see the snake to see if the snake poses a danger to itself or human beings.
A snake inside an office is much more dangerous than one in a mielie field, for both the snake and the people.
The next step is trying to identify whether it is a venomous or non-venomous snake, based on its size, head and eye shape, whether its body is glossy or dull, and its colour.
Non-venomous snakes, which make up the majority of snake species in South Africa, can generally be left to slip away peacefully.
Snake identification is a specialised skill that relies on much more than only skin colour, however, and it’s easy for the uninitiated to confuse a non-venomous green snake for a venomous green snake and take a spade to it.
Until recently, the identification process has meant listening to long, often inaccurate descriptions.
These days, Evans and others like him can narrow things down with Google Lens to identify a snake from an image.
Venomous or not, if the snake needs to be removed, Evans says he relies on Google Maps to get him there - fast.
Particularly in summer, when he rescues a few highly venomous species a week, time is of the essence, more so if the snake is in a confined space, such as a ceiling or in machinery.
“I could not operate without Google Maps! More people in rural areas now have smartphones, and are able to send me a location, which helps a lot. Unless I'm familiar with the road, I use Google Maps to direct me there or to find the quickest route. If I'm in a dodgy area, I send a location to my wife, so if she doesn't hear from me, she can send that to our contacts in security,” Evans comments.
Once he arrives at the location, his biggest challenge is not the snake, but messy rooms and homes, which make it difficult to catch the snake. Finding a spot where he can safely release the snake is less of a challenge - the nearest nature reserve is generally safest.
Studies indicate that releasing a snake further than 10km away from where it was found can lead to its death, Evans says, and as a result, he spends “a lot of time on Google Earth, looking at which area is most suitable and where there are fewer people”.
Johan Marais, CEO of the African Snakebite Institute, which offers a free snake identification app on the Google Play Store, agrees. “Google Maps and Google Earth have been great in identifying areas of potentially suitable habitat. The terrain layer is much better than any paper map.”
Marais says that of the roughly 120 snakes found in South Africa, only around 21 of those are considered “medically important”, meaning they can deliver a nasty bite, or inject a potent venom that is life threatening. The majority of South African snakes are “harmless or possess a mild venom that has no effect on people”, he notes.
If someone is bitten, Marais advises that they get to a hospital (ideally one with a trauma unit) as soon as possible. If a pet is bitten, it’s best to take the animal to the vet for immediate care.
“Do not cut around the site of the bite, attempt to suck the venom out, or pour anything into the punctures. None of this works. Try to keep the patient as calm as possible, and reduce movement as much as possible,” states Evans.
If you find a snake at home, both Marais and Evans ask that individuals don’t try to catch or kill them, but instead do a Google Search for “snake catcher near me” or “snake rescuer near me”, and leave it to the professionals.