Experts share tips to stay safe this snake season

A black mamba that was badly injured before Nick Evans could come to its rescue. Picture: Nick Evans

A black mamba that was badly injured before Nick Evans could come to its rescue. Picture: Nick Evans

Published Sep 19, 2023


Although parts of South Africa are experiencing winter’s last gasp of icy weather, spring's warm embrace is around the corner, and South Africa’s approximately 160 snake species will be showing off in the open more frequently, taking advantage of our glorious sun.

Although only a small fraction of our snakes are considered dangerous, it is always advisable to be cautious with any snake you may encounter.

Durban-based snake rescuer Nick Evans shared some of his expert tips on how to stay safe if you come across a snake this summer.

"Snake season is under way so, I thought some useful information is worth sharing," Evans said in a Facebook post.

Speaking of recent snake bite incidents, Evans said that last week, a Westville resident narrowly missed being bitten by a black mamba after reaching behind a bucket on a shelf in an outdoor bar.

"Suddenly, a snake's head appeared and opened its mouth, dangerously close to his hand.

“Fortunately, the resident managed to avoid being bitten."

The snake was a 1.9-meter-long female black mamba, which most likely gained access via an overhanging branch.

"I couldn’t believe how close the homeowner came to being bitten. This was another good example of how mamba’s aren't these vicious, blood-thirsty monsters. If it wanted to bite him, it easily could have. Instead, it gave him a warning to back off, and that was that," Evans said.

"I do try to hear about and record snake bite incidents via the public or networking with doctors. I think it's important to keep a database going. In some cases, we can learn a thing or two, but it's difficult," he said.

Shaun McCleod, a snake rescue volunteer and Director of Reptile Educational Awareness Consultants told Cape Talk that "if you come across a snake in the wild, leave it be and walk away slowly so as to not startle the snake. If you find one in your house, call a snake rescuer who will catch the snake and release it back into the wild, away from human contact.

Here is some information, according to Evans, on what you should not do in the event of a snakebite.

- Do not cut around the bite site to let the venom bleed out; it does not work.

- Do not try to suck the venom out; it does not work.

- Do not try any electric shock treatment; for obvious reasons, it does not work.

- Do not chew the bark of a cashew nut tree; it does not neutralise venom. The African Snakebite Institute recently dismissed this myth.

- Do not try to capture or kill the snake and take it to hospital with you, as this can result in another bite. A photo will help, but if you can't get one, it is by no means a death sentence. Doctors will treat you symptomatically.

Although the use of a tourniquet is a controversial one, it is generally not advised, especially if you do not know what snake has bitten you. If you know the bite is from a Puff Adder, Mozambique Spitting Cobra or any snake with cytotoxic venom, do not use one.

"I've seen someone do this for a Brown House Snake bite, a snake with no venom. His arm didn't look so good. It can cause totally unnecessary damage, which was the case with this gentleman," Evans said.

It is also worth noting that many bites from venomous species are "dry bites", bites which do not contain venom, although unfortunately, there’s no way of knowing this immediately, so it is imperative to treat all snake bites as venomous.

Due to snakes having a limited amount of venom stored at a time, it would not be efficient for a snake to expend this venom on something that is not considered prey or food.

What you should do

- Get the bitten person to the nearest hospital or clinic immediately. A hospital should be a priority, as they would most likely stock anti-venom.

- Try to keep the person calm while en route to medical help; this will help slow the venom dispersion.

- Call the hospital that you're transporting the patient to and inform them of your pending arrival and situation.

-  If you manage to get a photo of the snake that has bitten someone, you can send it to a professional snake-catcher to identify while en route to hospital.

"People always ask me "which hospital?". The best bet is usually your nearest hospital. In Durban, though, St Augustine's, Albert Luthuli, and Hillcrest usually always have anti-venom.

“Ngwelezane, near Empangeni, is famous for their work in snakebite treatment. I unfortunately can't comment about hospitals across the province or country," Evans said.

Durban’s most well-known snake rescuer implored people to remember that snakes do not want to bite you; it is always their last resort when they feel trapped and at risk.

If you see or hear of any snake bites in Durban or the general KZN region, Evans requests that these be reported to him, as he is in the process of building a database containing important information such as where and how the incident occurred, the species or description of the snake, and the time of day.

Evans can be reached by telephone or WhatsApp at +27 72 809 5806 or via email at [email protected].