Anti-snake spray fails tests

2008-02-08 00:00

Snake experts have warned that Snake Repel, a locally manufactured snake repellent, does not keep snakes from entering your home and yard.

This warning comes as "snake season" reaches it peak in KwaZulu-Natal. Snake removal companies have been inundated with calls about snakes entering houses.

According to its creator, Rowan Mattig, a simple squirt of Snake Repel, a non-toxic snake repellent, can keep snakes away from your house and yard.

He said the repellent works by attacking certain nerves in the snake’s respiratory system, which causes them to move away from the area.

Snake Repel is non-toxic and has no lasting effect on the snake, he claims.

However, snake experts told Weekend Witness several tests proved that Snake Repel does nothing to repel snakes.

Rob Fineman from the Fitzsimons Snake Park did a demonstration for Weekend Witness to determine whether the product has an effect on snakes.

Fineman used six brown house snakes, the most common snakes in South Africa, two pipes and two sponges for the simple demonstration.

He soaked one sponge with water and the other with Snake Repel and blocked one end of each pipe with the sponges.

Pipes were used because snakes love crawling into cracks and crevices to hide.

Fineman set up the first pipe with the Snake Repel sponge and released a snake nearby.

Within seconds, the snake crawled into the pipe. Two more snakes were released and crawled straight into the pipe.

The pipe was then replaced with the second pipe, with the water-soaked sponge. Three snakes were used in this test. All crawled into the pipe.

This showed that Snake Repel did nothing to change the snakes’ behaviour.

In a second test, Fineman sprayed a circle of Snake Repel on a table and placed two highly venomous common Rombic night adders inside. After a minute, both crawled over the circle, totally unfazed by the repellent.

"The results say it all. The product has no effect on the snakes. There is no product on the market that effectively repels snakes," he said.

However Mattig said "extreme testing" has been conducted on the product, which is approved by the department of Agriculture.

Mattig, a former policeman, spent five years working on the silicone-based product, which he said has been approved for use in game parks around KwaZulu-Natal.

"We have done extreme field tests where we used the product on areas that had huge snake problems. The product helped to chase away the snakes," he said.

In Pietermaritzburg, the product is used by the Mounted Unit to keep snakes away from their dog kennels and stables.

Mattig provided Weekend Witness with the results of field tests that were conducted in 2004 at several areas around Durban.

Calls to homes where Snake Repel was used, revealed that snakes returned to the house. One owner had to sell his house due to the snake problem.

Snake expert Simon Keys, who has worked with snakes for the past 17 years, tried Snake Repel on the 15 snakes he keeps in his home to determine if the product works.

"My snakes didn’t even recognise the smell. They were fine. Snake Repel did nothing to repel them," he said.

"We tested the product there and the results were funny. One of the snakes actually crawled into the empty bottle," he added.

Keys said he even tried Snake Repel on exotic snakes like the Californian puff adder and came up with the same result. The product did not repel the snake.

"The product just puts people’s mind at ease, but does not work. It has no effect on snakes," he said.

Jan van Blerk, owner of Snake Pit, a snake removal company, said he also tried the product on several snakes and got the same results as Fineman and Keys. The snakes were not repelled.

"I used the product and have not seen any difference. Most snakes just crawl over the sprayed area. I’m going to stop using the product as it has no effect on snakes," he said.

Darren Marais of Efekto, the company that distributes the product, said sales got off to a slow start but demand has grown in the past six months.

"Customers are extremely satisfied with the product and we haven’t received any complaints to date," he said.

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