As promised, I would like to offer some feedback on the Snake Awareness, Identification and Handling Course that I attended this weekend. In brief, I am humbled, inspired and driven to educate as many as possible in order to conserve these creatures that most of us fear. It was a truly incredible experience, and I Recommend Recommend Recommend to you all to do this course.
We started with an introduction and detailed lesson in identifying the various snakes, in particular those that occur in the Western Cape. Wow, how incredibly alike the Mole Snake and Cape Cobra can look, or the Olive House snake and male Boomslang. This was something that we focused on in great detail, including what they eat, venomous or not, size, colour etc. This forms the bulk of the course’s theory.
The class was then given 11 containers of baby snakes and told to identify them. Looking at them book and holding them is very different to a slide display and it was a strong reminder how difficult identifying them actually is.
Baby Mole Snake.
This was followed by first aid and emergency procedures in the case of a bite, with different applications required for a cytotoxic (adder) neurotoxic (cape cobra) and haemotoxic (boomslang) bites. The seriousness of a snake bite is a terrifying reality, aggravated by the fact that species such as berg adders and black spitting cobra are both neurotix and cytotoxic. We cannot be careful enough.
Our first day ended with a written identification test where a minimum of 60% was required to pass. It was so difficult and I froze when I never knew the first snake shown. I was however delighted to come 2nd in the class with 75%. Although that 25% could get me into trouble …
Day two had us split into to groups and 6 and 4 participants, and we started with handling. This is me holding Romeo, a very large and unusually docile mole snake that was very happy to get close and personal. Such a treat – but I wouldn’t try it at home.
From there it was learning to pick up a snake and put it into a container, which is what I would have to do if I was called in to remove a snake. It involves hooking the head whilst grabbing the tail, picking up and moving to the capture box. We did this with a rope first, and found that quite easy … and before we knew it we had a mole snake in front of us. Then a boomslang, followed by a very large Cape Cobra called “Big Boy”.
We then had a couple of puff adders that we needed to box, and this procedure is slightly different as two hooks are used, and there is not grabbing a tail … Thankfully!
It was an incredible adrenalin rush, my heart was beatiing so loudly I was worried about scaring the snakes, and the Cape Cobra was unimpressed and attempted a strike. Yet in we went, grabbed the tail, hooked and boxed them, one at a time. Confidently. What an achievement. It became clear that this was not only about identifying and saving snakes, this is about overcoming personal fear and prejudice. What an incredible feeling to be able to do this.
It never ended there, we had another theory test and then ’scenarios’, where a highly venomous snake was placed in a bathroom and we had to go in individually, find it, identify it and box it in a calm and controlled manner. Mine was a cape cobra, tucked behind the door, taking less space that you would believe, and this was the very last place I looked. Live and learn they say, and I do.
NOTE – Never pick up a snake, unless you are doing so to relocate it to another area. The course was run by Dr Tony Phelps and Marcel Witberg, and has left me with a FGASA endorsed qualification. Bear in mind that if you find a snake you can call me to come on over and save it – and you!
Personally, I have always been intrigued by snakes, and that love affair has grown with the closer contact and better understanding. I add them to my every increasing list of animals that I want to advocate for and help save, snakes of all shapes, colours and sizes. Please don’t believe that “the best snake is a dead snake”. Like too many of our animals, they too are under threat and we need to be better informed in a bid to save them. Strange how I see snakes everywhere now, probably because I want to know they’re their and be reminded of their fragility – and mine.