Bathurst community hosts informative snake talk

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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

The Friends of Waters Meeting, a community group in Bathurst in the Eastern Cape, champions the collective role of South Africans as nature’s guardians. In collaboration with the Bathurst Residents and Ratepayers Association, they recently invited Fanie Fouché, a seasoned snake rescuer and deputy director of community and protection services at Ndlambe Municipality, to share his expertise on local snake species.

Fanie Fouché handling a female boomslang.
Fanie Fouché handling a female boomslang. He is deputy director: community and protection services at the Ndlambe Municipality, and a qualified conservationist and snake rescuer and remover.

Fanie holds advanced snake handling and identification qualifications as well as a snakebite and a first aid qualification from the African Snake Bite Institute.

He began his presentation by informing the audience that anyone who wants to remove or rescue a snake, must first be certified to do so, and obtain a permit from the Department of Economic Development Environmental Affairs and Tourism. Such a permit allows the holder to catch, release, transport and relocate snakes or any wild animals.

Fanie familiarised everyone with the types of snakes which are commonly found in the Ndlambe Municipality.

“Most snakes in South Africa are harmless,” he said. “Unlike the common belief among people that most snakes are venomous and dangerous.” Furthermore, he urged the public not to attempt to handle snakes, dead or alive, regardless of their size.

Fanie names the following three categories of snakes that are present in the area:

  • Harmless (venomless): Brown house snake, common slug eater, olive snake, brown water snake, common wolf snake, southern brown egg eater, common egg eater, mole snake, and western Natal green snake.
  • Mildly venomous: Spotted harlequin snake, herald snake, spotted skaapsteker.
  • Extremely venomous: Rhombic night adder with a prominent ‘V’ on the head, the rinkhals, which often fakes death, the ‘lazy’ puff adder, Cape cobra, the second most venomous in this category, and the boomslang, which is the most venomous of them all.

Fanie captivated the audience with a discussion about various myths, ranging from the peculiar belief that a snake will only die after sunset if killed, to the idea of these reptiles moving in pairs, creating nests, or even possessing hypnotic eyes. He also shared some facts, such as the reproductive habits of snakes. Many snakes, including the Cape cobra and boomslang, are oviparous, which means they lay eggs, while others, such as the puff adder and rinkhals, are viviparous and give birth to live young.

Fanie demonstrated the difference between fixed, front-fanged jaws, such as that of a cobra, and hinged, front-fanged jaws, such as that of a puff adder. He once again emphasised the importance of leaving snakes alone, even when they seem to be dead, since the rinkhals often plays dead.

“If you come across a snake, or if someone was bitten by it, do not attempt to kill it. Instead, try to take a photo of it for identification purposes,” he said. “If you go outside at night, take a torch and do not walk barefoot since some snakes are active at night. Also, when walking in the veld, try to not step directly over rocks and logs as this is where snakes usually lie. Rather step on top of such rocks or logs, observe and then step down.”

The don’ts of snake bites:

  • Do not suck out the venom.
  • Do not apply a tourniquet.
  • Do not apply ice, boiling water, or lotions.
  • Do not give the person alcohol, which will take the venom to the heart faster.
  • Do not apply electric shocks.
  • Do not give the person anti-venom.

Watch the videos below to see Fanie in action:

What you should do if someone is bitten:

  • Take the person that was bitten to the hospital as quickly as possible.
  • Keep the person as calm and still as possible.
  • If possible, let the person lie down and elevate the part of the body that was bitten above the heart.
  • Take any objects, such as rings and bracelets, off the person’s hands, or shoes off feet if bitten there.
  • In the case of a cobra bite, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation may be necessary since breathing could be restricted.
  • If a rinkhals spat in a person’s eyes, the venom will go into their bloodstream if they rub their eyes. Therefore, it is best to keep the eyes open and under running water for as long as possible. If no water is available, one can use milk or beer or even urinate on that person’s eyes if none of the above is available.

Fanie advised taking an animal that was bitten to the nearest veterinarian as soon as possible. Listed amongst the things that one must not do, regarding pets or livestock, are the following:

  • Do not give the affected animal any milk, charcoal, or Allergex tablets.
  • Do not cut the ear to bleed the venom out.
  • Do not inject horses or cows with petrol.

Fanie strongly recommends the African Snakebite Institute (ASI) app, which can be downloaded for free from Play Store on most phones. It provides excellent information about snake species, the contact details of the nearest snake rescuer in one’s area, first aid tips, online and public courses. – By Carin Venter, Plaas Media

For more information, contact Fanie Fouché on 082 753 1716, ffouche@ndlambe.gov.za or ndlambesflorafuana@gmail.com.

Remember the Native American thought: “Only when the last tree has died, the last fish has been caught; the last river has been poisoned and the air is unsafe to breathe, we will realise we cannot eat money!”

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