Snakes – All You Need to Know

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As we edge towards warmer weather, we can expect to see more of one type of local resident species emerging, and not everyone is going to be so thrilled…

It’s a fact – the Western Cape is home to 41 different species of snake. Of these, only eight are capable of inflicting a bite that is merely painful, and only six species are considered potentially life-threatening or dangerous to humans or their pets.

Of those six species of venomous snake, the one we get the most calls about here at the Cape of Good Hope SPCA, is the puffadder.

A thick-set, slow-moving snake of the adder (or viper) family, puffies pack a nasty bite.

While their venom is cytotoxic in nature (meaning it acts on living tissue cells), it is also slow acting, meaning you have a good chance of getting medical help before it’s too late.

Human deaths from puff adder bites are rare but a bite can still leave you in a bad way with lots of localised swelling at the bite site, extreme pain and tissue damage that could require many surgeries to patch up.

Venomous or not?

Knowing how to tell the difference between the venomous ones and the harmless ones, is key. Last week we had a gentleman bring in a live snake he had found in his garden whilst mowing the lawn. He was convinced it was a harmless mole snake.

Upon opening the plastic bag he had placed the snake into, we confirmed it was actually a very angry puff adder!

The gentleman had cheated fate by quite calmly handling the snake (believing it was harmless), picking it up in his bare hands and taking it inside his house to find a packet to put it in, never for a moment realising just how close he was to a story with a different ending (one with a lengthy and expensive hospital visit.

(Snakebite treatments for serious bites will cost you, the State or your medical aid anywhere from R100 000 to one million Rand to treat).

The puffadder in question was safely released back into its range by the SPCA Wildlife Unit.

Puff adder - snakes in the Western Cape

If you are unsure of the species of a snake you come across in your garden, home or business premises, it is best to call your local snake-remover or the Cape of Good SPCA for a positive ID!

Snakebite statistics

According to the African Snakebite Institute (ASI), of the 3, 500 to 4 000 cases of snakebite that are recorded in our country each year, only about 800 of these victims will see the inside of a hospital ward; 40% of them will show no symptoms or only experience very minor symptoms requiring nothing more than a Panado and some rest.

An average of 10 to 12 people however, will die from bites inflicted by venomous species.

(This number could be higher as fatal snakebites in rural areas are not always accurately reported on and case histories get lost, according to the ASI.)

Education is key

Rather than fearing snakes, we urge you to learn as much as you can about the ones we live alongside in an effort to better understand them and their behaviour.

Snakes play an important role in our environment by controlling rodents and other pests.

Did You Know? More than one million people are bitten by highly venomous snakes globally every year, resulting in over 100,000 fatalities.

The UN’s World Health Organisation has declared snakebite “a neglected tropical disease” with an aim to reduce snakebite deaths worldwide by 50% over the next 8 years.

Puff adder - snakes in the Western Cape

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Puff adder - snakes in the Western Cape
As we edge towards warmer weather, we can expect to see more of one type of local resident species emerging, and not everyone is going to be so thrilled…

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