Early spring is when snakes become more active. The rains bring out frogs, which many snakes eat. Warmer temperatures will also encourage snakes to start looking for a mate.
Before smallholders start to panic, however, and lay about with brooms and spades when they see a snake on their plots, it is worth knowing that many of the snakes that are seen in Gauteng are harmless, such as the Brown House Snake, Peter’s Thread Snake, Mole Snake, Bibron’s Blind Snake, Green Water Snake and the Aurora House Snake.
Among the dangerous snakes seen on plots the Rinkhals is the most common, but smallholders also report sightings of Puff Adders and Snouted Cobras (also sometimes called the Egyptian or Banded Cobra).
Ideally, smallholders should follow the live and let live policy and appreciate that snakes have their very important place in the eco hierarchy, but if you do not want snakes on your smallholding, there are measures that you can take to discourage them.
Start by removing anything that might provide shelter or food for snakes.
Keep the grass around your house well mown, as long grass is a favoured habitat of snakes. Regularly sweep up leaves and other garden debris.
Also keep shrubs trimmed round their base and ensure that tree branches do not overhang your house or seating areas in your garden. Make sure that there are no holes in your roof that snakes can get through ~ particularly if trees overhang your house.
Ensure skirting boards do not have gaps under or behind them. Seal all holes where wiring, plumbing or gas pipes enter your home. Cover gutters and drain pipes with fine gauge mesh.
Fill gaps, cracks and crevices in brick and stone walls.
Wooden decking in seating areas should be solid, rather than slatted, to prevent snakes slithering through it. Be aware that play areas such as wendy houses, tree houses, sand pits etc might be appealing to snakes.
Stack your wood on a suitable platform – such as a pallet – off the ground. Try to avoid having piles of building rubble, sheets of corrugated iron or piles of firewood near your house or sheds, as snakes like dark or neglected areas.
Compost heaps could potentially attract many different species of wildlife which, in turn, may become the prey of a snake, so make you heap far from the house or enclose it with a wall.
Some people go as far as attaching a strip of foam or rubber under their doors to reduce the size of the gap, in the hope that this will prevent snakes from gaining access to their houses.
There are commercially marketed repellents for snakes. However, it is difficult to confirm that any effective product exists to repel snakes humanely. Some people suggest using moth balls, which do not harm the snakes but still deter them from coming inside. However, moth balls can also be hazardous to children, pets and domestic animals.
It is important to know that most snakes are more scared of you than you are of them. A snake will not purposefully attack you. They lack true aggression and will only attack in self-defence. Most snakes will get out of your way and will only strike when they have no escape and are feeling threatened.
What should you do if you come across a snake? Once you have seen the snake, do not go towards it and obviously don’t try poking it with a stick! If you are close to the snake, freeze and watch the snake’s reaction. If it is slithering on the ground it is probably moving away from you. Move away slowly, so that the snake does not feel threatened. However if the snake rears up and flattens its neck to form a hood it is showing aggression. Back away slowly. If you step on a snake or are very close to a Puff adder then move away quickly.
If a snake appears to be dead, do not pick it up. Some snakes such as the Rinkhals play dead, where they roll over and allow the tongue to loll most convincingly out of the mouth. However if you touch it, it is very likely to bite.
Two of the three South African spitting snakes occur in Gauteng, namely the Rinkhals and the Mozambique Spitting Cobra. They can spit their venom up to three metres and do so in self-defence, to temporarily blind an attacker so they can make a quick escape.
If you a snake spits at you wash out your eyes with lots of water. If you are near a tap hold your head under the running stream of water for 15 minutes. If you are out in the bush you can use other fluids such as beer or milk, but water is preferable. Then go to a doctor as soon as possible. There might be temporary blindness but permanent damage is unlikely, particularly if prompt medical attention is sought.
If you are bitten by a snake, it is most important that you remain calm ~ difficult though that might be. Identify the snake if possible. If you do not know what snake it is try and memorise what it looks like. Do not panic or run as this speeds up your metabolism and spreads the poison faster.
Do not apply ice to the bite area and don’t, under any circumstances drink alcohol. If bitten on the hand, remove any rings as soon as possible.
Immediately apply a crepe bandage firmly around the wound, as if for a muscle sprain. This will reduce the amount of venom entering the bloodstream but should not cut off circulation.
Do not apply a tourniquet. This often causes more damage than the bite itself.
Also, never try and suck the venom out.
Get someone to take you to hospital as soon as possible as anti-venom might be needed.
If someone is bitten by a Puff Adder, call for medical help immediately. Apply a bandage starting at the bite site and working up the limb. Do not apply a tight bandage or tourniquet. A lightly applied bandage may help stop the spread of the poison. Keep the limb lower than the victim’s heart. Do not remove the bandage until the anti-venom has started to take effect.
Snake bite experts maintain that if a snakebite victim is taken to hospital within 30 minutes to two hours, the outcome should be good.
It makes sense for smallholders to educate themselves, their families and their staff on snakes. There are many snake books available which will help.
The African Snakebite Institute has recently released a free app for android and Apple smart phones called ASI Snakes. This app has several useful features such as snake profiles, posters, articles, a list of hospitals listing those that are closest to you and a list of over 450 snake removers around the country.
If you are unable to acquire this app on your phone, don’t wait until there is a snake in your house to download a list of snake removal experts in your area. Go to https://www.africansnakebiteinstitute.com/snake-removals-information, download, print the list and keep it in an easily accessible place.
If you fear that waiting for a snake removal expert will take too long, for example if the snake you encounter is in your house or a high-traffic area, you can catch it and remove it to somewhere safe by using a snake tong, hook and bag. These can be bought, comprising a long, lightweight aluminium tong (the longest version is foldable for easy transportation) which is used to catch the snake close to its head, and a lightweight hook which is used to manoeuvre the snake’s body. Thus holding the snake well away from oneself (and thus out of reach of any possible bite etc) the snake is lowered into the bag provided, and prevented from escape by pulling the bag’s drawstring closed. Thus “imprisoned” the snake can be safely removed and relocated far away from harm’s way, into open veld if possible.
To buy your snake kit call 012 xxxxxx