Experts warn of winter snake danger

Tom Zaunmayr, Cally Dupe, Rob Dougherty, Courtney FowlerNorth West Telegraph
A Pilbara death adder.
Camera IconA Pilbara death adder. Credit: North West Telegraph

Experts are urging residents and travellers to remain vigilant of snakes even as the weather cools off.

While it is often believed snakes go into hibernation in winter, this is not the case.

Only last week an olive python was found at the post office in Kununurra and there have been several posts on Karratha’s social media pages in recent weeks requesting the assistance of snake handlers.

Of the 10 deadliest snakes in Australia, four of them can be found in the North West.

The Mulga, or King Brown, is well known and widely distributed across Australia. It has a high venom output but, like many snakes, only tends to bite when provoked.

The Gwardar (Western Brown), Pilbara and Desert Death Adders are also considered among Australia’s deadliest and can be found across large swathes of the North West.

The Coastal Taipan features in the list too but is mostly found only in the far north east stretches of the Kimberley.

INSIDE THE BITE

Malcolm Douglas Crocodile Park crocodile keeper and snake removalist David Tapper described being bitten by a Gwardar and being injected with its neurotoxic and haemotoxic venom as a “harrowing experience”.

In March 2009 Tapper was called to the Broome Post Office to remove a snake from some building rubble, he immediately recognised it as the highly potent Gwardar.

“I started shifting the rubble to access the snake and I had an opportunity to grab the snake by the tail so I reach down which is a motion I’ve done a thousand times — that’s when the snake came out with just enough length to strike out and tag me on the thumb,” he said.

“It didn’t hurt physically, I watched him bite me in slow motion and saw two droplets of blood on my thumb — I was then able to bag the snake and secure it.”

After bandaging his arm and calling his partner Stacey, Tapper was driven to hospital where his health took a turn for the worse.

“I started to experience a headache while waiting for Stacey but when I got to hospital the headache had really increased, I felt nauseous and after a fairly short period; say an hour-and-a-half I started vomiting and then started vomiting blood — I had internal bleeding,” he said.

After a night in the hospital and a small allergic reaction to the three vials of anti-venom that were applied, Tapper received some additional bad news when morning routine tests showed his kidneys had shut down, ceased to function and weren’t producing urine.

“I was flown to Royal Perth Hospital, they inserted a stint into my leg and I had dialysis for three or four day. They later replaced the stint from my leg with one into my chest literally into my heart and I was on dialysis every second day for about six weeks,” he said.

“That’s when my kidneys started to function and I spent the next two weeks on dialysis every two or three days, and then I was sent home — I’d been in RPH for almost eight weeks and I think I got away pretty lightly considering I still take medication to assist my kidney function.”

PROTECTING YOUR PETS

Whether it be going for a walk or at home in the backyard, it is not uncommon for our favourite four legged friends to cross paths with a snake.

Hedland veterinarian doctor Lotte Krisanski said the North West had a number of venomous snakes but Gwardars accounted for more than 70 per cent of snake bites in domestic pets.

“The other 30 per cent of snake bites come from King Browns or Mulga’s as they are commonly known,” she said.

“Occasionally we see animals which have been bitten by Whip snakes but they are only mildly venomous and an anti-venom may not be required in those cases.”

Dr Krisanski said several factors would determine what sort of reaction your pet had to a snake bite, ranging from the type of snake, the amount of venom injected and the length of time since the snake bite occurred.

She said the reaction would vary between each animal, however 85 per cent of dogs typically started showing symptoms within the hour, including:

Vomiting.

Dilated pupils not responsive to light.

Drooling.

Sudden weakness or collapse.

In the later stages paralysis may occur caused from internal bleeding.

“We have specific anti-venoms depending on what type of snake your pet is bitten by,” she said.

“If the type of snake is unknown we run a detection kit to find out and we will give the anti-venom required.”

Dr Krisanski said the best way to avoid snake bites around the home was for residents to keep their yards clear of long grass and remove any piles of rubbish.

“Pet owners should keep their yard free of anything a snake can hide under shrubs, bushes and leaf litter,” she said.

“Anything that can attract snakes prey should be kept clear. A popular hiding place for rats and mice are piles of wood in the backyard.”

WHAT TO DO

Department of Parks and Wildlife East Kimberley district wildlife officer Mathew Byers is in charge of relocating snakes when people call.

“The public is encouraged to contact (local) Parks and Wildlife (offices)... including after-hours, then follow the prompts to contact after-hours emergency,” he said

“These snakes (pictured) are certainly the most common species that we relocate around Kununurra, except for the King Brown and Western Brown snakes.

“(King Brown and Western Brown snakes) are extremely venomous and can still be encountered within the central business district of Kununurra.

“To give you an idea, since January this year we have relocated just two Western Browns and no King Browns. However, we have relocated about 15 various pythons.”

Mr Byers said his office relocated about 80 snakes from homes and town areas in Kununurra each year.

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