10 December 2018

What should you do when you see a snake?

| Genevieve Jacobs
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This sizeable brown snake was removed from Bunda St on the weekend. Photo: Facebook.

When a substantial brown snake turned up in the centre of Canberra, it made headlines here in the ACT and nationally. But it wasn’t the only unusual situation faced this weekend by Emma Carlson and her partner Luke, who run Canberra Snake Rescue and Relocation.

Not long after the dramatic incident on Bunda St, they were called to Old Parliament House, when a big Eastern brown appeared at the front of the building. Security staff called for help and watched the reptile, which Luke says was the right approach in what can be a very frightening situation. So what should you do if one turns up at your place this hot, dry summer?

Luke says the first thing he asks is whether there are children or pets around and whether the caller can still see the snake. He’s most initially concerned about the animals because, he says, it’s generally a lot easier to scoop up a toddler than to stop your pet from attacking.

The biggest challenge is to stay calm, but Luke explains that’s vitally important in heading off danger. “If you spot the snake, stand still for a couple of moments. That will give you time to interpret the situation and calm yourself down. But the snake also has time to decide whether they’ll try to escape or to take a defensive posture.

“If you’re in a safe environment walk very slowly backwards and keep your eyes on it. Don’t make any fast movements because that will freak them out. Slow movements will stop them going into defensive mode and deciding they need to bite”. Luke says that if you need to get from Point A to Point B and the snake is in between, move very slowly, giving the snake a wide berth.

There’s a common myth that snakes are deaf but that’s not true, despite the fact that they don’t have apparent external ears. Luke says that snakes do pick up a degree of air travel noise as well as hearing through vibrations, and will certainly sense sudden loud noises.

The movement is more of a risk because the common Eastern brown is a highly visual animal. “Every snake will do something different. They might freeze and hope you can’t see them, or a take a defensive posture, where they flatten out their neck and hiss to look and sound big. When you see that, step back nice and slowly so the snake can calm down”.

Very large snakes will get bolder as they grow and are therefore more likely to make a defensive display or a mock charge, a very clear sign of imminent danger. But it’s still not a good idea to intervene, which can be difficult if your dog is already having a go at the snake.

It might be possible to get behind the dog and pull it away from the snake, but human safety should always come first, and Luke adds that every interaction with a snake should be treated as a possible life or death situation.

“What makes them dangerous is how you behave around them. If you go out with a bat or a shovel and wound them up, then they duck under the fence and are already on high alert, ready to attack next door’s dog or toddler”.

Depending on where you live, you could also be prosecuted as snakes are protected native animals. Much better to stay calm and call an expert, Luke says. “The snake’s venom is a poor defensive mechanism for him and he only wants to use it as a last resort. Ideally, you never want to intimidate him enough to see you as a threat”.

For urgent snake matters and removal, call Canberra Snake Rescue and Relocation – 0405 405 304.

You can also call Access Canberra’s Contact Centre – 13 22 81, and the environment directorate will refer you on to a list of licensed snake removalists.

How have you dealt with a snake threat?

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Wasn’t the snake at OPH identified by the rangers as a (fairly harmless) python?

Jackson Bond11:37 pm 19 Dec 18

The one near Old Parliament House was some sort of carpet python but was not a species found in the ACT or surrounds. It was in a bad way suffering malnutrition and parasites. Best guess is it was probably brought here by someone and either released or escaped and the environment was not suitable for it. It eventually had to be euthanised.

Thanks for providing the contact number – my general plan before this has been “hope I don’t see one”!

How can you not see them? I see one every few weeks. The last one while I was recently on holidays in Tasmania. I turned around and a black snake was slithering along a path (in a rainforest) behind me. It wasn’t being aggressive, but I moved out of the way smartly.
(I have even seen a snake in England. That was a thrill, as apparently many British people have not seen one of their local snakes.)

Capital Retro10:08 am 11 Dec 18

Having been bitten by a brown snake when I was 10 years old I have developed great respect for them and all others for that matter.

Many years ago I walked into a shop in a large north-west NSW town. There was a large brown snake (2 yards long) curled up under the front desk where the receptionist was sitting. I stopped walking towards the desk and said to the lady sitting at the desk “I know I am a bit of a practical joker but this time I am deadly serious, so please do what I say without question”

I told her there was a large snake under her desk and she should ever so slowly move to the left and climb onto the desk. She did this and while the snake was moving its head it did not assume a defensive position. When I could see that the lass was out of immediate danger I was able to remove the snake out the front door onto the footpath noting that it had been run over and was going to die so its demise was expedited.

There was a trail of blood from the gutter, across the footpath and into the shop and I concluded that someone had run over the snake and it became tangled under the car which parked outside the shop at the ned of its journey and the snake dislodged itself and headed for a quiet spot to die.

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