Enjoy the Great Oz Outdoors….but Avoid the Snakes

Australia is perversely proud of its reputation as "the country with more venomous living things than any other" (including the women).

Enjoy the Great Oz Outdoors....but Avoid the Snakes

Nature Facts

Where: Throughout Australia, take particular care in the bush
Facts: Oz is home to the world’s 10 most poisonous snakes
Remember to: Keep your feet and preferably legs covered and if bitten never suck the wound

Australia is perversely proud of its reputation as “the country with more venomous living things than any other” (including the women). There are more things here that’ll bite you, scratch you, sting you and eat you than you could poke a stick at – but poking a stick at any of them is not recommended! Most of these creatures will only attack when provoked.

Admittedly, it’s not likely that many people – except perhaps Steve Irwin (TV’s ‘Crocodile Hunter’)- would go out of their way to deliberately provoke a snake. However, snakes don’t necessarily take your intentions into consideration when getting cranky and are just as easily aggravated by people accidentally disturbing them. So it is worth bearing in mind that Australia is home to the 10 most venomous snakes in the world, comprising varying species of the brown snake, tiger snake and taipan, as well as the Death Adder and Sea Kraits.

Of these, the brown snake is the cause of more attacks and snakebite deaths than any other in Australia. The most common variety, the eastern brown snake, is born with dark-coloured bands around its body, but these disappear as the snake matures and it ends up being uniformly brown to brown/black. It is found, as the name suggests, throughout the eastern half of mainland Australia, and prefers dry country to swampy areas. Featuring a head that is not distinct in shape from the rest of its 3-6 ft body, it winds itself into an ‘S’ shape when striking, raising itself off the ground and attacking rapidly. Its western counterpart is supposedly less aggressive, and slightly less venomous – but who wants to take any chances?

Avoiding snakebite

There are plenty of sensible precautions that visitors to Australia can take to avoid being bitten by a snake. Many of these are simple common sense – as indicated above, deliberately agitating a snake is never a good idea. Similarly, going barefoot in the bush or in swampy areas is asking for trouble – sturdy, enclosed shoes should always worn, as well as long trousers – remember that around 75% of snakebites occur on the lower limbs. Take extra precautions in warm weather as snakes are particularly active at these times – watch where you are putting your hands and feet, especially in long grass, and carry a torch if walking at night. Be particularly careful if you have been drinking – several cases of snakebite death have been linked with alcohol intoxication. Finally, remember that snakes vary in appearance, even within species, so never assume that you “recognise” a snake and can identify it as non-venomous one.

What to do if you are bitten by a snake

Don’t suck the wound! And don’t wash the area as traces of venom on the skin may assist in identifying the snake, which is important in administering the anti-venom. The recommended first-aid treatment of snakebite is the pressure-immobilisation technique, which inhibits the venom from travelling from the bite to the bloodstream, delaying an adverse reaction while proper medical treatment is sought. A broad bandage (any fabric will do) should be applied from the bite site outwards, about as tightly as you would to a sprain. Next, the limb should be immobilised with a splint and the victim should be kept still. Never administer any sort of sedative, like alcohol, or stimulant, like coffee, in an effort to calm the victim down as this will speed up the rate at which the venom travels into the bloodstream. Just reassure them with calming words – and, if possible, bring medical help to the victim, rather than moving the victim to take them to medical care. If you are unlucky enough to be by yourself when a snake strikes, walk, rather than run, for help.

It’s not all bad news though – on the whole, the incidence of snakebite in Australia is relatively small and the number of related deaths only a few a year. Just taking a few precautions should be enough to ensure that you maximise your enjoyment of the beautiful and diverse Australian outdoors without compromising your safety.

 

MORE INFORMATION

Aboriginal Art: the Rainbow Serpent
For a different perspective on the role of the snake in Australian culture, this is the Dreamtime story of the Rainbow Serpent

Snakebite in Australia
More information on all of those wriggly nasties and medical advice

Article By Sarah Rodrigues

main image: Tree Python CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=447114

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