By Johan Marais of the African Snakebite Institute
Snakes in your garden or home are a very real possibility as temperatures rise. Temperature increases at the start of Spring are a cue for snakes to start moving and feeding. Many species will also start the mating season in Spring so that their eggs can hatch in summer. Reproduction requires a lot of energy and snakes will need to put on some weight and condition before mating starts.
This is the time that snakes may end up in gardens or even in houses. There is a large selection of food around houses in the form of frogs, baby birds, rodents, and lizards, including geckos, and this will attract snakes.
Snakes in your garden can’t be repelled
Despite popular belief, there is nothing that repels snakes. We are frequently asked about the efficacy of Jeyes Fluid, old diesel, potassium permanganate, garlic, geraniums, lavender, moth balls and the like, but nothing works. The best way to prevent an influx of snakes into residential gardens is to reduce suitable hiding places as well as prey items. Piles of bricks, rocks, firewood or building rubble, including old roofing tiles, are perfect places for snakes to hide. Trees and creepers growing against the building often allow snakes access to open windows where they accidentally enter houses. Bird feeders and chicken coops attract rodents which attract snakes. Ponds and water features attract frogs which attract snakes.
The most effective way of keeping snakes off your property is to seal the property off using shade cloth which has to be fixed to an outer fence to form a visual and physical barrier. It should be at least 1 meter high and must be dug into the ground (about 30 cm deep). Any snake encountering such a barrier will be directed to the left or right along the barrier. The weak spots will be entry gates – try and seal them off well, as snakes can enter through very small holes or gaps.
Walk dogs on a lead. Dogs will attack any snake they see and if your dog is running ahead of you he or she is likely to encounter the snake long before you can take action.
If you are feeling brave, join us for a venomous snake handling course and learn the correct and safe protocols to remove a problem snake. Alternatively, if you do come across a snake in the house or garden, and you are not comfortable removing the snake yourself, you can use the free ASI SNAKES APP (http://bit.ly/snakebiteapp) to find a snake catcher in your area.
Call the catcher
1. Clear the area of hazards. Lock up dogs and keep children away.
2. Watch the snake. If you can keep an eye on the snake from a safe distance (5 m or more), it helps the snake remover to easily locate and capture the animal. Calling a remover to catch a snake that was seen the night before or previous week is generally a waste of time, as snakes are quick to disappear and invariably move on.
3. Do not attempt to catch or kill a snake, unless you have been trained in snake removal and have the correct equipment. Getting close to snakes can be dangerous as they are unpredictable and are usually nervous around humans. Getting too close may result in the snake defending itself by either biting or spitting. Leave snake handling to the professionals.
Children should be warned to immediately retreat at least five paces away from any snake, and call an adult.
Most dogs will attack any snake that they see, and this often results in the dog getting bitten or spat in the eyes. Should a dog get bitten or spat in the eyes, get it to a vet immediately. There are no quick and easy remedies for pets bitten by a snake and milk, charcoal or Allergex tablets do nothing to save the life of a pet.
In the unlikely event of a person being bitten by a snake, the best course of action is to get the victim to the nearest hospital with a trauma centre as soon as possible. For more details on first aid for snakebite, please check the first aid section on the free app ASI Snakes.
Johan Marais is the author of various books on reptiles including the best-seller A Complete Guide to Snakes of Southern Africa. He is a popular public speaker and offers a variety of courses including Snake Awareness, Scorpion Awareness and Venomous Snake Handling. Johan is a FGASA (Field Guides Association of Southern Africa endorsed service provider and his courses are accredited by the ISZS (International Society of Zoological Sciences) and are recognised by the AFGA (African Field Guides Association and the NFTGA (National Federation of Tourist Guides & Affiliates).
His courses are registered with the HPCSA (Health Professions Council of South Africa), SAIOSH (South African Institute of Occupational Safety and Health) and the PCIPC (Pest Control Industry Professional Council).
Johan is a qualified instructor for the Emergency Care & Safety Institute in Oxygen Administration and Wilderness First Aid and a qualified Basic Life Support instructor.