Deadly U.S. snake free on S. Coast

2012-12-08 00:00

A DEADLY rattlesnake imported from the United States is roaming on the South Coast, with experts fearing for anyone who comes across it.

There is no readily available anti-venom because the reptile is an exotic species.

Although importing a snake into South Africa requires a permit, no controls exist thereafter and they are readily found in pet shops.

The rattlesnake, a Western Diamondback, has been spotted in Port Edward, and is the first of its kind known to be out of captivity in KwaZulu-Natal, said the SPCA’s Alistair Sinclair.

Also spotted slithering wild on the South Coast, in the Masinenge informal settlement at Uvongo, was a South American Yellow Anaconda, another imported specimen.

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife said it was waiting for a sighting of the reptile before trying to capture it, as it posed a danger to children. While non-venomous, anacondas are constrictors and crush their prey to death.

Pieter Massyn of Ezemvelo said the rattlesnake was a particular concern.

An untreated bite would mean almost certain death.

“Anti-venom is very specific and for the bite of a snake … the snake would need to be identified, and this snake would never be expected in the wild so it is a very dangerous situation.”

The snake has distinctive diamond-shaped markings and will rattle its tail if confronted.

It is suspected the snakes were released by their former owners.

Massyn said moves were afoot in KZN for pet owners with exotic species to acquire permits. But the proposed law only goes before the provincial legislature next year and is far from being promulgated.

Permits are required for importers, but there is no stopping them from selling the reptiles on.

Finding such a specimen is easy and pet shops in Durban stock them.

Creatures and Critters in Hillcrest told Weekend Witness a Western Diamondback could be easily ordered.

Asked what other snakes were available, the answer was “any snake”, no matter how venomous. Prices ranged from R250 to R1 000.

Massyn said people should keep to ordinary pets like cats, dogs, hamsters and rabbits. “If you want to see poisonous snakes, go and look at them in a specialised environment.”

Sinclair made a similar warning, especially with Christmas so soon.

“People buy cute little pythons, for example, without thought for the long-term ramifications of what will happen when it gets to two metres. Then they release them in the wild or, worse, they buy poisonous snakes, get bored with them and then let them go in residential areas.”

Sinclair said that before buying a pet, the prospective owner should research what the pet will need and how it will grow and change.

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