SUB­UR­BAN STRIKE ALERT

PER­FECT CON­DI­TIONS IN­CREASE THE CHANCES OF BE­ING BITTEN AT HOME

The Sunday Times - - NEWS - TREVOR PADDENBURG

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.

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