The mere mention of the word “Snakes” engenders many different, and often strong emotions in people. These are feelings that range across the whole spectrum of human nature, from fear and loathing to like and love, with a few neutral or interested thrown in to complete the mix. So I guess the group of 15 keen Honorary Officers who gathered at Ian Gordon-Cumming’s house on the morning of Saturday 21st November to attend the course were not really a typical representation. Most of us fell into the “Interested” group, with only a few resolutes on the fear or love sides of the spectrum.
Some of the attentive audience
The event was led by one of South Africa’s leading reptile personalities, Arno Naude, who is a lecturer at the Medical Faculty of the University of Pretoria. He is also the Chairman of the THA (Transvaal Herpetological Association) and Vice Chairman of SAPTA ( South African Pet Traders Association). He is one of the most experienced animal handlers in the South African film industry. He was born in Harare, Zimbabwe and has kept snakes from the age of 12. With his extensive knowledge of snakes he has drawn up a number of courses on reptile husbandry, assists with snake removals, and provides training on snake handling, snakebite identification and treatment.
After some coffee (Thanks Ian) Arno started the morning with a lecture, the introduction of which put the possibility of dying from a snake bite into perspective, as although there are a great variety of snakes in southern Africa, approximately 160 species and sub-species, there are only a few that have venom which is deadly to man. Of the 37 species that have fangs and venoms, only 16 different species are regarded as being potentially fatal to man. The other species have venoms less toxic than that of bees, and are therefore regarded as not being dangerous.
This risk is even further reduced by things like ‘dry bites’, issues with the alignment of fangs and the venom sacs etc. so in the end only about 20% of bites actually require major treatment.
Arno’s talk was very thorough, and certainly absorbing, with a number of important ‘take aways’ for Honorary Officers who spend time in the bush. The “Do’s”, “Don’t’s”, “Prevents” and practical tips provided by Arno may well help save the loss of a limb, or even that of a life.
Who would have thought that a simple piece of medical equipment, a nasal cannula, which you can buy for about R10.00 is ideal suited for washing out eyes in the event of a spitting incident.
An engrossed audience
After the lecture it was on to the “Action” part of the morning – Snake Handling.
Arno started by putting our minds at rest by explaining all the safety equipment on hand, in case there was an incident!
And for some of us they were further eased by one of my mother’s favourite adages “Do as I say, not as I do”. As, as can be seen from a number of the photo’s, whilst all the HO’s did as we were told and wore long trousers and closed shoes, the lecturer did not.
Those keen to try, were allowed to work with two of the three snakes that Arno had with him. The Mole Snake (Pseudaspis cana), and the Snouted Cobra (Naja annulifera). The Puff Adder (Bitis arietans) was off the menu, as it is a bit of an anomaly being both one of the slowest snakes in Africa when it moves, but one of the fastest when it strikes.
I think one of the biggest ‘take outs’, for a lot of us, from this event, was the fact that no matter what the activity level around the snakes was, and the inexperienced prodding and pushing of them, without a doubt their main objective was to get out of the way. So as soon as they were afforded the opportunity to hide, they took it.
As is always the case, these events do not happen by themselves, and our thanks are due to:
- Ian Gordon-Cumming (VM 94) for the use of his house as a venue.
- Francois Swart (VM 78) for organising Arno and helping run the course.
- Arno Naude for freely giving his time, expert knowledge and advice to us all.
This was a morning to be remembered by all of those that attended, and to be recommended to all of those that did not.