Influx of snakes in suburbs - dry conditions to blame

2017-03-01 16:26
A female boomslang was found in a vegetable garden in Sardinia Bay.

A female boomslang was found in a vegetable garden in Sardinia Bay. (Mark Marshall)

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DRY conditions and regular veld fires are mainly the reasons why there is a definite increase in snakes invading residential areas.

This is according to Mark Marshall, snake expert and owner of Sandula Conservation. In most of the cases he responded to last year, puff adders were the species that invaded homes the most, but now there has been “a changeover of the snake species”, Marshall said.

“There is a drastic increase in boomslang activity in residential areas. This is because more birds are now breeding at or close to people’s houses, which in turn attracts the boomslang,” he said.

“Because of the dryness of the veld, wild animals are now forced to move into residential areas,” Marshall said.

Dr Charles Hayward, veterinarian at the 9th Avenue Veterinary Clinic in Walmer agreed.

“It is very dry and because of the drought, veld fires and a lot of urbanisation taking place, their natural vegetation is becoming limited, so there is an influx of snakes in areas they would not normally be seen in,” Hayward explained.

Hayward lives on a smallholding and said that they regularly come across snakes at their home, including puff adders, but added that there has definitely been an increase in the number of boomslang.

“Last month we caught two boomslang and three puff adders at our home,” he said.

According to Marshall, the reason for the slight decrease in puff adders “is because the number of their prey (rats and mice) have also decreased – again, due to the dryness. But just because they are less does not mean they are not there,” Marshall explained. 

In March last year the PE Express reported on the high number of puff adders that were caught in residential areas. Marshall caught 13 puff adders, as well as other venomous snakes in just one weekend. Marshall said he responded to around 79 cases of puff adder invasions a month in 2016. “They are still around, but just not as many as last year.” He successfully caught around 30 boomslang since the beginning of January this year, but has had at least 50 calls from homeowners who saw boomslang at their homes.

But the increase in snake activity in residential areas holds a danger not only for people, but their pets as well.

Pet owner Jethro Sampson from Fairview told the PE Express that a puff adder bit one of their Rottweilers, Sherlock, on February 7. 

“I heard Sherlock barking like I never heard him before. I went upstairs to my daughter Paxton’s room and opened the sliding door and that is where I saw Sherlock harassing a snake.”

The snake moved towards the front of their yard. “The snake was highly agitated – the puffing sounds it was making penetrated to the bone,” Sampson said. 

His father-in-law eventually killed the snake, while Sampson and his wife Heidi kept their dogs inside the house. That is when they noticed that Sherlock’s face was slightly inflamed. They took him to a vet, who injected him with anti-venom and he made a full recovery.

“Obviously when walking in the yard the idea of a snake being there is in the back of my mind, but the dogs are always there, so I feel fairly safe,” he said.

Hayward added that snakes are getting ready for hibernation, so there is more snake movement than normal.

“We are all part of the same ecosystem, so we have to be cautious,” he warned.

What to do when you find a snake in your home

Mark Marshall, owner of Sandula Conservation and snake expert, shared some advice on what to do when you find a snake in your home.

“This will sound strange and it will probably be the last thing you want to do, but if you see it, trap it in the house!” he said. This way we will know exactly where the snake is to be able to catch it. “Close the windows and the door and put towels down so that it doesn’t escape. If it is the garden it will be more difficult to find,” he said.

If the snake is outside, Marshall advises that you take a photo of the snake and also to keep an eye on the snake in order to pinpoint its location.

“Don’t try to catch the snake! Rather call me – I’m available 24 hours.”

There are no clear signs to know if there is a snake in your yard, Marshall said.

“If you hear birds chirping loudly, then it usually is a Cape Cobra or boomslang. Dogs will bark at a high pitch if they see a snake. Snakes are very quiet creatures.” 

The times that snakes are mostly active are between 9am and noon and about three hours after the sun goes down, “so try to keep your doors and windows closed at these times,” Marshall added.

Contact him at 082 261 9280, or visit his Facebook page, Sandula Conservation-Mark Marshall.

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