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Snake demo at an institution for the mentally challenged

Human beings are strange! Who would have expected to find Maré Ascott and Yvonne Hiscock looking adoringly into the eyes of a python as it is draped around their bodies? Not the men, no, it was the women who couldn't keep their hands off the creature. Why? As for me, I love seeing snakes in the wild but bring one near me and I'll run a mile. 
About 20 people attended a fascinating talk and demo given by Snake Getters, Gary and Tracy, at the windy (as usual) Enviro Centre in Valkenberg. 

Glenda Kemp (a.k.a. Maré Ascott)
Gary started off demonstrating a 2-metre long albino, Burmese python named Idiot. Gary described how these snakes feed explaining that it's a myth that they dislocate their jaws, instead they apparently have four parts to their jaw. Their bodies are extremely strong and later, as I touched him I could feel and see sinuous muscle below the cool, smooth skin. Apparently they don't see colour but instead see infrared and sense movement, picking up the heartbeat of their prey. When they attack they alter the pressure on the prey to make the heart stop, and then they consume the victim. "They pooh like a horse", said Gary, "And eat two to three rabbits each week". Pythons are the most primitive of all snakes.

Paula's son Gideon - "I do this every day"

Gary went on to tell a few tales of how and where they rescue snakes. Sadly it's man who causes the biggest habitat destruction by building houses, roads etc. Snake Getters are running out of places to release rescued venomous snakes, especially the Cape cobra.

Apparently 100 000 or more snakes are killed each year in South Africa with only 3-5 people being killed by snakes, as opposed to at least 11 616 fatal road accidents last year.

The next snake was smaller and thinner than Idiot, an Aurora house snake. This snake is non venomous but is a constrictor, feeding on lizards and mice, growing to between 50-80cm with a longitudinal stripe or patterned body.

The next specimen was a 1.2m mole snake. The markings of these snakes can range from salt and pepper speckled to black spots on green, brown or silvery black but the most significant identifying feature is the arrow-pointed head, apparently so that the snake can burrow. Mole snakes are common and are aggressive and will hiss, but they aren't poisonous (venomous), but they will bite, particularly in sandy flats. Of interest is that they aren't territorial and therefore won't build nests.

The boomslang is bright yellow on top and black underneath, has large eyes and is very fast. It's rear fanged and its venom is a very potent haemotoxin, destroying arteries in humans and taking approximately 48 hours to kill an adult.

Good news is that it's a docile snake and is an uncommon cause of deaths because it is an elusive creature and quick to move away.


Claire and her iguana friend

As with sharks, snakes have received bad press over the years and contrary to what many people believe, a snake is more likely to get out of the way of a human being and will not confront or chase after them. Although each species of snake has a method of killing prey, the temperament will change from one snake to another, as with human beings.

The next snake was a puff adder with a large head and its cheeks filled with cytotoxic venom, its skin rough and keeled in order to grip rocks. With Tracy's help Gary inserted a pen into the snakes mouth and showed the 2.5cm retractable fangs. This snake is the cause of 10 000-15 000 deaths on the African continent per year. If bitten by a puff adder, the bite is not necessarily fatal and may only necessitate the amputation of a limb. The venom spreads rapidly through the body and apparently the pain is indescribable. The puff adder is named because it puffs when annoyed. Its short fat body is pure muscle, like a taught elastic band, the strongest snake. Apparently when a puff adder sheds its skin, the snake goes blue, even its eye caps.


Even Gary doesn't look too sure of his friend Idiot

Gary proclaimed that the Cape cobra is the finest example of fauna in the Western Cape and described it as death-on-wheels. It's a very nervous snake and feeling a vibration, will strike spitting neurotoxin with uncanny accuracy, causing a slight sting, swelling and necrosis around the bite, this in turn causes paralysis of the heart and lungs and eventually death approximately 30-min after the bite.

The Cape cobra has a flat head and fat cheeks (full of neurotoxic venom), and can range in colour but is often gold. It has small fangs at the front of the mouth and will make a double puncture wound. It will strike without warning and signs of attack are tingling of the lips and toes. These snakes are highly intelligent.

Treatment: Apparently doctors spend approximately 15-min of their six-year medical studies on snakes and the treatment thereof. It is therefore important for us, as hikers, to be able to identify snakes and to know the protocol for treatment.

Forget about suction devices or tourniquets. Most bites will be to a hand or foot and come from a cobra or puff adder, these snakes use 10 times the venom they need to use for a kill. Use a pressure bandage on the bitten limb, not tight as though for a sprain, maybe even a splint. Keep the limb below the heart. It's important to keep the person calm and to get them to hospital as soon as possible, preferably by carrying them.

The venom passes through the lymph system.

Tip: Apparently snakes don't like Jik or ammonia so a strip of these should deter them from entering your property. When you come across a log blocking your path, step onto it not over it. Logs are favourite places for puff adders to rest.

If you see a snake, leave it alone and he will leave you alone. Move away in the opposite direction.


Tracy looks more relaxed (women - go figger)
Article and Photos by Karen Watkins.
An evening arranged by Denise Hopkins at the Enviro Centre on 19/01/2007
Who you gonna call? Snakegetters!
Helen Bamford
Summer in Cape Town means sunsets, sundowners, south-easters... and snakes.

The slithery reptiles are making their presence felt after winter but a Cape Town couple has urged people not to kill them but rather to call them so they can remove them.

Gary Montague-Fryer and Tracy Dawson have started Snakegetters, a service by experienced volunteers with permits from Cape Nature Conservation to catch and release snakes in safe areas.

Montague-Fryer said most people had no idea who to call if they wanted a snake removed so usually landed up slicing its head off with a spade.

'The idea behind Snakegetters was to pull together snake catchers from all areas'

"The idea behind Snakegetters was to pull together snake catchers from all areas under one banner to work together."

When Sunday Argus arrived at the couple's Parow home for an interview this week they had just returned from an Ottery petrol station with a skaapsteker snake.

They were called out twice again in the afternoon.

Dawson said they were busy mostly in the hot summer months.

Last week they rescued a Cape cobra from under a boy's bed in Mitchell's Plain and a boomslang from a shed on a horse farm in Kleinvissershoek - a feisty one that didn't take kindly to being moved.

'They're not coming to kill them and their whole families'

They also took a two-metre boomslang out of a Table View house after a teenager found it in a tree and took it home to play with.

"We were called out after his granny tripped over it."

Dawson said there was a lot of superstition about snakes.

"It's very disheartening to be called out when a snake has already been killed but the people are too frightened to move the body."

She said people needed to realise that snakes were actually doing them a favour by eating rats and mice.

"They're not coming to kill them and their whole families like some people think."

Meanwhile, the couple, who are also members of the Cape Reptile Club, often work together as a team if it's "something big and nasty", but can usually handle most captures by themselves.

They cover most of the northern suburbs but keep in touch and refer cases to fellow catchers in other areas.

Sometimes it's as simple as picking up the snake and putting it in a box while other times it can be an hours-long chase fraught with danger.

They are besotted with the reptiles and keep 12 as pets, including a four-metre-long Burmese python called Biscuit who will double in size and slithers around their garden for an hour of exercise on most days.

'We just have to watch the cat," Montague-Fryer says.

Then there's an albino Burmese python that has lost its ability to strike because it was too inbred.

"I have to take a rat and put it in its mouth but nine times out of 10 he bites himself. We've nicknamed him Idiot."

Snakegetters can be reached on 021 939 9558 or 082 414 8292. The service is free but donations towards petrol and related costs are appreciated as they are all volunteers.

A Cape Town snake catcher has warned that the illicit trade in Western Cape snakes is on the increase with many being sold to overseas buyers for thousands of dollars.

He said Cape Cobras were going for as much as $2 000 and puffadders and boomslangs could fetch between $400 and $500. Sales were often made via the internet.

"Most people aren't bothered especially if the snakes are venomous but it's going to become a big problem, much like the illicit trade in abalone."

Montague-Fryer said the market for snakes in the East was huge.

"There are markets with literally hundreds of thousands of dried snakes sold for medicinal purposes including for virility."

He said the Cape cobra was sought after because it had the most potent venom of all the cobras.

"The only snake more venomous is the boomslang."

Montague-Fryer said the rinkhals or spitting cobra had practically disappeared from the Western Cape.

"I just hope that is not going to happen to the Cape cobra," he said.

This article was originally published on page 6 of Sunday Argus on November 07, 2004
Climber bitten by a puffader near Sir Lowry's Pass airlifted by helicopter  more...
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