Anaconda Rescue

Working with animals can bring out the best in people. A good example of this case is Anny the big yellow anaconda. She’s a snake that I was involved in helping and a few good people came together to help Anny get the life she deserves.

It started with a text from my good friend Gerrie Heyns, who runs a Facebook group called Snakes Live’s Matter. He sent me pictures of a large snake that was so badly covered in green algae that I struggled to identify it. He asked me if I could please help the lady who had the snake as she had little knowledge and experience with reptiles. I agreed, and he forwarded Eleanor Pretorius’ details to me. Eleanor runs Tara Wildlife/HART Rehabilitation Centre for big cats and game. 

I contacted Eleanor and offered to help with advice on how to address enclosure conditions to prevent it happening again. Bare in mind that this is a yellow anaconda and also Eleanor’s first snake. Even though Eleanor cares for lions and other big game, a snake of Anny’s size isn’t an easy task. That being said, I think she did a fantastic job in cleaning up the snake and addressing the enclosure issues to solve the problem. I am still blown away by how dedicated and caring she is. I know the work involved in keeping big constrictors; and it isn’t easy.

Eleanor became very attached to Anny but she knew that the snake needed care from a professional. She asked me if it would be possible for me to take Anny in, I said that I would make a few calls and see what I could do.

Tara Wildlife/HART Rehabilitation Centre is very far away from me. I’m based in Simon’s Town and run deep south reptile sanctuary, which is in a completely different province. It’s about a 14 hour drive away.

I called around to all the experts I could think of to see if I could find a home for Anny closer to where she was. Unfortunately nobody was able to take on the responsibility. It goes to show that big snakes are not easy to keep. In the end I made the decision to take Anny in and I started to look for transportation for her. I called to see if flying her would be an option, quickly finding out that this method was too costly for my self-funded rehabilitation centre.

I went to get some supplies from my good friend Bjorn Unger at Reptile Gardens for my own snakes, I got to talking to him about Anny and he expressed interest in taking her in. He said,”let me see what I can do.”

Over the next few months Bjorn and I tried numerous ways to get Anny a lift to Cape Town. Eventually he called me one day and said, “Bro, I’ve got a lift for her.” I was so happy to hear those words. He then proceeded to get the permits in order and I informed Eleanor who also had to get permits ready from her side.

Bjorn’s friends were on their way to Cape Town and would be passing Eleanor’s rehabilitation centre. They agreed to swing by and pick Anny up.

Eventually after almost a whole year we now have Annie in Cape Town, she has a perfect bill of health and a permanent home with Bjorn at La Bonheur Reptiles and Adventures in Paarl/Simondium.Attachment_1.png

I’d like to thank everyone who helped and went the extra mile to help this special snake. Gerrie Heyns for putting us in contact, Eleanor for her fantastic hard work and dedication to first of all take Anny in to help and then for all the hard work that she put in. Big thanks to Uncle Dave for giving Anny a lift down and a huge thanks to Bjorn Unger for giving Anny a forever home with the best care she could ever need. 

It’s amazing how a group of people can rally together to help a snake. I have made a friend for life in Eleanor, the work this lady does is absolutely amazing at Tara Wildlife/HART Rehabilitation Centre for animals. Bjorn who is one of South Africa’s top reptile experts and has an amazing display at Reptile Gardens as well as Monkey Town Somerset West; and where Anny now lives a life of luxury at La Bonheur Reptiles and adventures in Paarl.

I’m glad this story had a fantastic ending, it does however show that snakes are a huge responsibility and large constrictors are not easy to re-home when they become too large to keep in a normal house. Please do research and don’t get animals if you are not prepared to care for them and provide what they need at every stage of their lives. Even when they are 4m or more and not typically cute little noodles anymore. (To me they are always beautiful.)

Thanks to everyone involved.

Steve Venom Man.

Venom, Anti-Venom & First-Aid

Venom

Venom is specialised salivary excretions made up of proteins and peptides. All venomous snakes carry numerous different active proteins in their venom and the reaction depends on factors like the size and sensitivity of the victims as much as it does on the compounds of the venom. For example, while a Black Mamba envenomation in a human victim is neurotoxic in nature, in its preferred prey it is cytotoxic. Some of the components in snake venom are found in almost all venomous snakes while others are found in only one species.

Aside from defensive purposes a snake’s venom is to help them catch and digest their food. Because of the different natures, sizes and habitats of different snakes their venom is an important tool to help them dispatch and digest their food. Snakes swallow prey whole so venomous snakes need their venom to help break down to digest food as well as to kill it fast so they can eat and move away as soon as they can to avoid predictors. Snake venom does not move through the blood system, it moves through the lymphatic system. This is why tourniquets are no longer used in 1st aid. It will more often cause damage to cut of the blood flow and trap the venom in one place.

In South Africa we have 151 known species of snakes, out of all of that around half of them are considered venomous, only 16 venomous species are considered as life threatening to humans. They are 6 species of cobras, 2 species of mambas, Rinkahls, coral shield cobra, boomslang, 2 species of vine snakes, puff adder, berg adder and Gaboon adders. Although fatalities have been recorded from a few other species it is rare and mostly because of unusual circumstances like incorrect treatment or underlying medical conditions that cause the bite to react differently.

In general, snake bites and venom can be put into 4 groups: Neurotoxic (nerve destroying), Cytotoxic (tissue destroying), Hemotoxic (blood affecting) and Myotoxic (muscle paralysing). This is a simple explanation as snake venom is very complex, these are basic breakdown of common symptoms in a human victim.

In South Africa we have 2 types of anti-venom. Polyvalent anti-venom is a general anti-venom that is suited to the most common venomous snake bites form Puff adders, Gaboon adders, Rinkahls, mambas and cobras. The second is Monovalent anti-venom it is specifically designed for Boomslangs. Although some other snakes are highly venomous their bites are treated symptomatically. This is mostly because few bites are recorded from these species and anti-venom is very expensive to produce. 


ANTI-VENOM

Anti-venom is made by milking snakes and injecting small amounts of venom into horses. It does absolutely no harm to the horses, it is slowly given over a period of time and the amount gets increased until the horses are effectively immune to the venom. The immunised horse’s blood is then taken and the serum is then separated from the red blood corpuscles and used to produce anti-venom for use in humans. The red blood corpuscles are put back into the horses and the serum gets treated with pepsin and is purified. The anti-venom is then put into 10 ml ampoules. It is the immunoglobulin produced by the horses that makes them immune to the snake venom that they are exposed to and it is these antibodies that make it effective in treating humans. 

The serum has proteins antibodies that the horses has produced to fight other pathogens and unfortunately this is why there are many people who experience allergic reactions to anti-venom. The allergic reaction can vary from a mild case of serum sickness to a potentially deadly anaphylaxis that can kill the patient. This is why anti-venom should only be given in sever life threatening cases and only by experienced medical professionals that are ready and prepared to deal with any resulting side effects like anaphylaxis and never as a first-aid measure.

Fortunately in South Africa we only have around 10 snakebites that result in loss of life annually. We have a far lesser death toll than parts of Asia and Northern Africa and it is partly because we have better access to medical facilities. In parts of Africa and Asia they have thousands of deaths per year. The high amount of fatalities are because of various reasons such as the different species of venomous snakes, cultural and social differences, high populations and extreme poverty, lack of knowledge and information and lack of access to proper medical help. Anti-venom is also very expensive and in short supply. There are many medical benefits that have and have yet to be discovered from snake venom. Powerful anticoagulant have been found as well as treatments for cancers.


FIRST-AID TREATMENT FOR SNAKE BITES

WHAT TO DO:
  1.  Get clear of the snake. Try to remember a description of the snake if possible. It is not essential as bites will be treated symptomatically but it can help if possible. Remove any tight clothing or jewellery that will restrict blood flow.
  2. Try to keep the patient calm. It’s easier said than done but it is important to reassure the patient and try to not panic. 
  3. Get the patient to the closest emergency hospital. This is probably the most important thing to do. The less time wasted the more chance to effectively manage and treat the bite in hospital.
  4. If the snake is long and slender like a cobra or a Mamba a pressure bandage can be applied. The bandage should be applied from extremity towards the body trunk at the same pressure as you would apply to a sprain. It is better looking fit it loose rather than tight. The venom is moving in the lymphatic system and not the blood system.
  5. Keep the patient as still as possible to slow the flow of the venom. Elevate the bite site.
  6. If the patient is having difficulty breathing mouth to mouth may be necessary.  Do not attempt this prematurely as it may panic the patient unnecessary. Most important thing is to get to hospital as quickly and calmly as possible. 
WHAT NOT TO DO:
  1. Don’t try to catch or kill the snake. Doctors are not snake experts and will treat symptomatically, they do not need the snake to know how to treat the bite.
  2. Do not cut, squeeze or suck the wound. None of that works and will cause more harm than good.
  3. Do not give the patient alcohol. Alcohol will spread the metabolism and widen the blood vessels, causing the symptoms to speed up.
  4. Do not attempt to apply any tourniquet unless under very exceptional situations like if you know 100% that it’s a Mamba or a Cape cobra bite and are over 1 hour away from help.

VENOM IN THE EYES

Wash the eyes out with lots of water. There is no evidence that milk,urine or anything else has any benefits, just use much water as possible. If its a tap of running water, let it flow into the eyes and do not rub them.

After rinsing the eyes, take the patient to hospital as soon as possible to be checked and have their eye flushed properly. 

 

Anaphylaxis

See attached diagrams on epipen and adrenaline. 

 

What I Do

 

I relocate snakes and I provide medical help and rehabilitation to snakes that are not so well.


RELOCATION OF SNAKES

When snakes find their way onto peoples properties, they become a danger to residents and pets. In the Western Cape area where I work, snakes become more active in our spring and summer months (September to March).

The snakes in South Africa do not hibernate and are active throughout the year. But, in our winter months, they find warm places to wait out the cold and will come out when it’s a warm day to hunt and bask in the heat. So it is very possible to find snakes all year round in South Africa.

When a snake is spotted on a property, the person will call to ask that I remove and relocate it to a safe place away from people and their homes. When a call comes through, I ask  the location of the person and snake at that moment. I ask if they have any pets and to call them away to safety and try to keep eyes on the snake from a safe distance until I arrive.

From there I rush to the address as fast as I can. When I arrive I get straight to the point of locating the snakes; sometimes easier said than done. Once I have eyes on the snake, I can identify it properly. I catch it in a safe, professional manner and place it securely into my snake bin.

I then speak to the caller and provide all the relevant information about the snake. Thanking them for the call to relocate it. I let them know the importance of what they have done as 80% of snakebites happen when unqualified people try to catch or kill snakes. We need snakes in our environment to control pests as they provide a valuable food source for other predators that rely on them.

I let them know what I do at the rehabilitation centre and that I fund it myself as the government does not provide me with any funds. I tell them I do not have a set fee for snake catching as I find it very difficult to put a monetary value on the life of people, pets and the snake itself. I work on a donation basis. If the caller can; a donation towards my time, fuel and rehabilitation work is all I ask.

The duration of a typical catch is around 30 minutes on site to locate and catch the snake. So it’s fair to say a catch takes around 1 hour between driving to the location and having the snake in my box. 

From there I leave with the snake. I take it back to my rehabilitation centre where I record information about the snake and do an inspection to make sure it’s healthy and not sick or injured. I provide water as most are dehydrated and then if all’s well with the animal I take it to one of my release sites closest to point of capture and return it to the wild.


REHABILITATION

Some animals may need medical assistance due to injury by cats, cars, dogs, people or they are just unwell. In these cases, I assess the situation and if it’s within my expertise I will provide the necessary fixes. Some cases are a bit worse and requires me to call a vet to get medication and a second opinion on the animal’s condition. We then work out a suitable plan of treatment and I get the medication needed to fix the animal. 

I place the animal in temporary captivity in my rehabilitation centre and begin a record of the treatment needed. The animal stays in the centre until treatment is successful. At this point I relocate it back to the wild to have a second chance at life.

All above mentioned is funded by me. I do educational shows and training courses which I charge for and the money I make allows me to provide these services to our environment and community. On occasion I receive donations from people who want to help me to continue helping the animals. I am very grateful for that help. Unfortunately there is no money set aside for reptiles in South Africa.

REASONS I DO NOT CHARGE A SET FEE

  1. I cannot place a cost on the life of an animal or the person. Some people may try to handle the situation themselves which can result in a snake bite or they may hurt or kill the snake.
  2. I get calls from people who cannot afford a set fee because they are living in poverty. Sometimes people will donate what they can in order to help.
  3. Some people will call asking me to remove snakes from public areas that pose a danger i.e. parks and walkways. I don’t want to discourage this by forcing a set free. This will lead to harm caused on the person and snake involved.

WHY REPTILES ARE IMPORTANT PART OF THE ECOSYSTEM?

They are one of our countries natural resources. They balance our ecosystem and control our agriculture. Snakes control populations of rodents, birds and play an important part in our success on this planet.

Without reptiles there would be an imbalance and we would have too many rats and birds among others that would destroy our crops. Jobs would be lost and food would be short. Illnesses would increase and our economy would be in a bad state.

Other benefits of reptiles are cures for human illnesses such as cancer and diabetes. Snakes have powerful antibiotics and pain relieving properties that we are now beginning to discover. Our environment provides us with a lot more than we know. It’s up to us to look after it so that we can unlock its secrets, helping each another to live better lives. And to understand all of our neighbours we share the world with.

I do what I do out of passion. Passion for nature, passion for snakes and a passion for knowledge to understand these creatures and their secrets. I will continue to do all in my power to help look after them until it is no longer possible for me to do so. At that point, I hope through me and many other reptile enthusiasts, other people will have learnt to step up and do the same. It’s not easy, but it’s worthwhile. It is our duty because if we don’t, who will?


I would like to thank the people who support my efforts and help me to keep doing what I do for reptiles and the community.

If you would like to donate to the centre you can do so via bank transfer. All contributions are welcome and much appreciated.

Bank details: 

Account Holder : S Meighan 

Account Number : 1381649619

Capitec Fish Hoek : 470010

Cape Cobra | Naja nivea

Cape Cobras are a medium sized cobra that usually reach around 1.5 m, they have been recorded 2.5 m in some areas but it’s not common. They have round pupils and are smooth scaled, there scales are glossy with 19-21 rows mid body, and the subcaudals are paired 50-68 with 195-227 ventral scales. The coloration varies and Cape cobras are 1 of the most varied colour of venomous snakes in South Africa ranging from black to high yellow. Some like most caught in the Southern Peninsula are mottled with brown to dark brown speckled with golden yellow or orange mottle, juvenile Cape Cobras have a dark band across there neck.

They have small fixed fangs near the front of the mouth and cannot spit venom. Cape Cobras are the most venomous cobra in Africa. They have a neurotoxic venom that causes respiratory failure and flaccid paralysis, and symptoms are difficulty in swallowing and breathing and drooping eyelids. Cape Cobras are responsible for the most amount of serious snake bites resulting in death in Africa.

Cape Cobras are active mostly during the day and most commonly seen in the early evening and morning when they prefer to hunt. They feed on birds, rodents, lizards and even other snakes. It has been recorded that they will also eat eggs.

In my experience Cape cobras are quick to defend themselves if harassed but are actually not the most difficult snakes to catch and work with. They are quite intelligent and if handling is done in the correct manner they become calm. Only professional snake handlers should ever attempt to handle them.

In the community I service, Cape Cobras are one of the most common venomous snakes I get asked to relocate along with Puff Adder and boomslang. Out of the three, I much prefer to deal with the Cape cobra. The boomslang is very fast and agile, normally it’s up a tree or in a roof so they give me a good workout. While the Puff Adders are normally sitting in one place waiting for me to catch them, they are the most difficult in my experience.  I never hook and tail puff adders as they can spin around and tag you so quickly. I use my broad tongs (the head of them is wide to better support heavy snakes without hurting them) or double hook method to support the weight of the snake better. They strike suddenly and very fast, if a puffie strikes with intention, it’s getting you.

That being said, all snakes pick up on how you are feeling and how you react towards them. If you give of fear and rush, it will become defensive. Cool heads prevail and slow deliberate moves are key in safe handling of wild snakes. It takes correct training and experience to do this safely.

Steve Venom Man.

 

Want to keep up with Steve? Follow him on Facebook and Instagram

Puff Adder

in-depth Description

Adult are normally from 900 mm up to 1.5 m in some parts of their range. The puff adders head is large and distinct from the body with lots of small scales. The eyes are small with vertical pupils. The nostrils are large and face up. The fangs are large hinged fangs. The dorsal scales of the body are heavily keeled and in 29-41 rows mid-body. The anal shield is entire and the sub-caudals are 14-38 and are paired. Ventral scales are 123-147. Coloration varies throughout their range.

 

Reproduction 

They lock in our autumn, winter and spring. Males actively look for females, this is when you may see 2 males duelling. They raise up and twist and push each other in a bid for the strongest male to put his head on the rivals and force it to the ground. This establishes a winner who then has breeding rights with the female. In summer the babies are born. Puff adders have between 20-40 young. Exceptionally rare cases of 80 have been recorded. The young are born live, not in eggs and are around 15-20 cm long. 

If you’d like to see more of my videos, please subscribe to my YouTube Channel here. You can also follow me on Facebook and Instagram.

Steve Venom Man.

New Born T Albolabris

Some of my new born T Albolabris. White Lipped Tree Vipers. These snakes are mildly venomous and are arboreal. The first mom had 6 and the second mom had 14. They gave birth to live young. The babies are around 7 cm at birth and grow quickly over the next few weeks. They will shed for the 1 time around two weeks after birth and will eat their first meal shortly afterwards. The babies are incubated inside the mom and come out in an embryo sack filled with yoke that they live off of for the 1st week till they are ready to eat.

Here’s some videos from my YouTube Channel. 

If you’d like to see more of my videos, please subscribe to my YouTube Channel here. You can also follow me on Facebook and Instagram.

Steve Venom Man.

Spring Fair at Imhoff Waldorf School


On Saturday, 1nd September, I spent some time with the wonderful kids from Imhoff Waldorf School at their Spring Fair event. 

I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who made this day a success! I had lots of fun doing the show.

 Here are some videos and pictures from the day.

 


Please click here for more information on snake shows. Or contact me if you’d like to book a show. alternatively you can email me directly at info@stevevenomman.com or call me on 064 681 0779