The more time you spend out exploring, the more likely you are to cross paths with some of our wonderful native animals. It could be something as bread and butter as a Kangaroo or wombat, as elusive as a lyrebird, majestic at a wedge tailed eagle or as beautiful as a snake… wait what?
Yes, beautiful snakes… to most people they conjure images of vicious, slippery, horrible things that are better off dead. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
The fact of the matter is, you are going to come across a snake. It’s not a matter of if you will, it’s a matter of when. I spoke with a reptile expert and a paramedic about what you should do when you come across a snake and what to do in the unlikely situation you are bitten.
From the Reptile Expert
Snakes don’t want to bite you and are largely non confrontational, 9 times out of 10 they will be out of your way and off into the bush before you even know they were there.
If you do spot one you can be sure he knows you’re there too; give it some space and don’t try to move it along by throwing anything at it. Snakes wont ‘come at you’ unless provoked.
Be sure to keep an eye on it as well if it moves off (which they can do quickly and quietly) as you don’t want to step on it while it’s hiding under some leaves.
While you are watching it intently, try to identify it! Make note of the size, coloring and shape of the head. You’ll be surprised that Tiger snakes can be a solid colour, Black snakes aren’t always black and brown snakes…you guessed it, not always brown.
On the east coast of Australia and NSW you’re more likely to cross paths with Eastern Browns, Red Bellied Blacks, Common Death Adders and Tiger snakes. Coastal areas, even near the beaches are home to the non-venomous Diamond Pythons and If you’re really lucky you might spot the endangered Broad Headed Snake (these look like tiny Diamond Pythons but are actually venomous) if you are around the many sandstone escarpments.
You’ve been as careful as you can be, kept an eye out on trails, looked over fallen trees before you’ve jumped over them and not been a dick and thrown something at a snake catching some rays on a rock…but you’ve still been one of the minority and gotten a little bite. What do you do?
From the Paramedic
It’s easy to say and even harder to do, but don’t panic.
The odds are in your favour because out of the more than 3000 reported snake bites a year, less than 500 will require antivenom and less than a handful would prove to be fatal, literally 1 or 2 a year at the most.
The bite may not look like a bite as you’d imagine one (2 small puncture wounds) it could be as minor looking as a little scratch or scrape and could even be painless so it is important to consider the possibility of a snake bite if you or a friend is all of a sudden unwell, in a state of confusion or has lost consciousness while out hiking and exploring.
After being bitten your instinct might be to wipe the venom off the skin, this is one of the worst things you can do as it is vital to retain as much of the venom as possible to help identify the species of snake and what treatment is required.
The first step is to slow or stop the spread of the venom through the body with a pressure bandage and splint, you should have one in that first aid kit you’re always carrying around. The bandage should be applied firmly over the area of the bite and then extended up the limb as far as the bandage will allow. A good reference point is to apply the bandage as firmly as you would apply one for a sprained ankle, not so tight that it stops the blood flow eg: a tourniquet. After this the idea is to immobilise the limb completely (or ideally the whole person) the less you move, the slower the blood moves around the body spreading the venom. If the bite is to an area harder to strap than a limb, it is still recommended to bandage as much as possible and apply additional constant pressure with your hand. Although it may not be possible in every situation, walking and physical exertion is not recommended.
Most importantly, every snake bite should be treated as a medical emergency, get to the nearest hospital or call an ambulance as soon as possible.
Like all animals, snakes are not to be feared; respected yes, but feared no.