SUBURBAN STRIKE ALERT
PERFECT CONDITIONS INCREASE THE CHANCES OF BEING BITTEN AT HOME
ALMOST five West Australians a week are being rushed to hospital after being bitten by snakes, as wildlife experts warn a wet winter and warming spring mean a busy snake season ahead.
The Health Department said there had been 179 snake bites recorded in WA to the end of October this year, while last year there were a total of 295 bites recorded, up from 280 in 2016.
Data from the Parks and Wildlife Service’s Wildcare hotline shows a surge in calls as the weather warms up, most relating to highly venomous dugites. Wildcare received 137 snake-related calls from residents — most reporting a snake sighted on their property or in their home — in the last 10 days of last month. Wanneroo topped the list with six calls, followed by Bibra Lake, Canning Vale, High Wycombe, Quinns Rocks, Stratton and Yanchep.
It has prompted a warning from the Parks and Wildlife Service for people to mow grass, tidy up their backyard, get rid of junk or scrap metal laying around, clean up aviaries and chicken coops, and use traps to reduce rat and mice populations, discouraging snakes from taking up residence. Snake catcher Steve Smartt, a veteran of 24 years in the job, said most of his calls were in Spearwood, Henderson, Cockburn and South Fremantle. “Ninety-five per cent of my call-outs are for dugites because they live where we live and eat mice, rats, lizards and birds — all the stuff you find in the suburbs,” he said.
“With all the development, snakes have nowhere to go and we’re finding them in the suburbs more and more.
“After a wet winter and a cool start to spring, the weather has now warmed up and it’s going to be a busy season. There are plenty of dugites around, and not just near the bush but in parks in the inner city and sand dunes near the beach.”
Mr Smartt said people living near lakes or wetlands could also expect tiger snakes, while death adders were found in the Perth Hills and mulga snakes and western brown snakes posed a risk in regional WA.
Mandurah-based snake catcher Adam Brice said male snakes were “out and about seeking females, so you certainly see a lot more on the move at this time of year”.
Mr Brice, a keen reptile photographer, occasionally uses a “snake shield” to lie behind when he is photographing dugites, tiger snakes or carpet pythons, and a “hide box” to give the animal a safe place to
retreat to and reduce the risk of being bitten.
Parks and Wildlife Service wildlife officer Matt Swan said it was a “bumper spring” for wildlife after a wet winter and warming weather, but he said Perth’s snake population was relatively stable from year to year and was governed by habitat and food supply.
“The best defence is a good offence — keep the place nice and tidy, clean out the shed, mow the lawn, put in firebreaks, and get the mouse traps out. Snakes actually have tiny teeth, so if you’re wearing boots and socks and pants the likelihood of being bitten is very low,” he said.
Snakes alive: A South West carpet python, right; and bottom right, a tiger snake. Pictures:Adam Brice Snake catcher Steve Smartt with a tiger snake.