Snakes, including venomous species, play a crucial role in ecosystems by maintaining ecosystem health and balance in the food chain. However, this role is often highly overlooked. For many years, much of the focus in tackling the snakebite crisis has been on snakebite management, including developing antivenoms and understanding the properties of venom. However, it is becoming apparent that in order to prevent snakebite incidences, the focus needs to shift to better understanding and to gather high-quality information on distribution, abundance, behaviour, and habitat preferences of venomous snakes. This is particularly important in regions most affected by snakebite such as Africa. In line with this, education about snakes and snakebite, based on the scientific understanding of the venomous snakes in a region, is equally important.
South Africa is home to a large diversity of snakes including many well-known venomous species such as the puff adder (Bitis arietans). The puff adder is known as the most dangerous snake in Africa causing many snakebites throughout the region. However, many of these incidences occur when people step on this cryptic species which is often very well camouflaged under vegetation. To mitigate such incidences, educating people about safety and awareness of these snakes is critically necessary.
Therefore, Save The Snakes has started a project in South Africa focusing on research, education and, conservation of snakes to reduce snakebite incidences, reduce snake killings, and promote a better understanding of snakes. Hiral Naik, Africa Program Manager at Save The Snakes will be leading this project in partnership with the Hoedspruit Reptile Centre. The Hoedspruit area has been chosen as a focal point as it is a small town surrounded by rural communities in a region with high snake diversity and many snake killings.
Although the Hoedspruit area is home to a large diversity of snakes, only six of the approximately 30 species found in the area are considered extremely dangerous. Thse snake species include the black mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis), puff adder (Bitis arietans arietans), common boomslang (Dispholidus typus viridis), Mozambique spitting cobra (Naja mossambica) snouted cobra (Naja annulifera), and the southern twig snake (Thelotornis capensis capensis). Three other snake species are also considered dangerous, but require no antivenom required if bitten. These snakes are the intermediate shield-nose cobra (Aspidelaps scutatus intermedius), bibron’s stiletto snake (Atractaspis bibronii), and snouted night adder (Causus defilippii). Lastly, although the southern African python (Python natalensis) is not a venomous snake, it can inflict a severe bite and is often encountered in human-snake conflict situations. Puff adder and Mozambique spitting cobra are two snakes that are responsible for many serious snakebite envenomations.
The project in Hoedspruit will focus on the following aspects: research of venomous snakes in the area, outreach to local communities and schools regarding snake awareness and safety, provide training to community members to rescue and relocate venomous snakes, and to educate healthcare workers about snakebite management. The goal of the project is to collect data on people’s experiences with snakebite, areas where snakes are commonly encountered, and to further understand the relationship people have with snakes in the area. Research on snakes in the area will allow the team to create more informative snake identification posters and other educational materials about snakes that are encountered in the area; and by educating and training key individuals from various communities, they will empower them to be able to translate the knowledge taught within their communities and act as snake ambassadors in their communities. Teaching individuals how to handle snakes and how to educate their local community about snakes will also create opportunities for other nature-based solutions.
Partial funding for this project has been received from an education grant from the International Herpetological Symposium. Please donate today to help us continue to fund Hiral’s snake conservation project in South Africa. Save The Snakes depends on the assistance of generous people like you to help fund international snake conservation efforts. Thank you for your support.