Save The Snakes has partnered with Helping Hands in Snake Safety to mitigate human-snake conflict in Zambia.
Helping Hands in Snake Safety (HHiSS) is a not-for-profit NGO, set up as an initiative to increase snake safety, meaning reducing the number of snakebites as well as reducing the number of snakes being killed in Zambia.
Zambia is home to some of the deadliest snakes in Africa. Infamous snakes such as the black mamba, the puff adder and spitting cobras are common, especially in poorer, rural areas. In these areas people encounter snakes often, which leads to dangerous situations.
As most Zambians have little knowledge of snakes, encounters often lead to killing any snake. This is regrettable, because 71 of the 99 snake species in Zambia are in fact harmless to human beings and snakes are crucial for pest control. In addition, they are an important part of Zambia’s ecosystems.
Many people are bitten by snakes and sometimes this occurs when they try to kill a snake they have encountered. Unfortunately, the exact number of snakebites is unknown. Not all cases that are treated at the many clinics in the country are registered or even recognized as snakebites. Often victims do not reach a health facility or decided to go to the traditional healer instead. The WHO estimates that 70% of snakebite cases are not reported. If the 70% rule is applied to the data available at the Zambian Ministry of Health, the average total of snakebites in Zambia per year is 77,665 bites and 118 deaths per year. However, the number of deaths is likely much higher, as most of those not seeking medical treatment are probably pass on.
A bite from a highly venomous snake usually leads to death, as most health facilities aren’t able to effectively treat snakebites. Health care workers, including doctors, aren’t trained in snakebite treatment, medication and equipment is not available and neither is antivenom.
This leads to many people losing lives, losing digits or limbs or surviving with chronic neurological disorders, even if they do visit a clinic. Survivors of serious snakebites in Zambia are often no longer able to work and thus lost as income earners to their family. This makes snakebites also a social-economic problem. The current COVID-19 Pandemic has halted the limited progress on improving snakebite treatment, as funds have been diverted to address the pandemic.
HHiSS has set itself the goal to significantly reduce the number of snakes being killed, as well as reduce the number of snakebite victims. They focus on avoiding snakes from being killed and avoiding snakebites from happening.
To achieve this, HHiSS seeks to increase people’s knowledge about snakes and snakebites, focusing on snake safety.
They do this by conducting sensitization programs in communities, especially to farmers, to children and in women’s groups. HHiSS also conduct training courses in safe snake handling, thus providing an alternative to killing snakes (which often leads to serious snakebites) and in first aid in snakebites.
In addition, HHiSS gave lectures at the University of Zambia on first aid in snakebite management. They also develop and publish brochures and posters on their website (www.hhiss.com) which help in identifying snakes and contain advise on various snake-safety topics. Further, they coordinate an ever-growing network of trained snake removers who have saved many snake’s lives (and in the process, keep people safe as well). Finally, HHiSS regularly appears on radio shows and on TV.
Project Mfuwe – Saving Snakes and People
Mfuwe, located in Eastern Zambia, is a poor and rural area in the East of Zambia. Because of its suitable habitat, a large number of highly venomous snake species live here and there are lots of human-snake encounters. In 2020, the HHiSS snake removers in Zambia have saved 492 snakes by removing them from peoples homes and work places. This was done in six locations in Zambia. In Mfuwe alone, 288 of these 492 snakes were saved. That is almost 60%! In addition, 24 different species were caught in Mfuwe, of which six can give a bite that requires medical treatment.
Human-snake conflicts are high and this leads to many snakebite incidences and casualties. Due to people knowing little about snakes, every snake usually gets killed on sight, even the harmless ones. And 71 out of Zambia’s 99 snake species are harmless!
Based on National and Provincial data from the Zambian Ministry of Health, on registered snakebites in Zambia, as well as on data from the research conducted by Health Action International in other Provinces, HHiSS estimates that the number of snakebites in the wider Mfuwe area to be around 1,000. As the local clinic is incapable to adequately treat snakebites, and a the nearest proper Provincial Hospital being 120 km away, the number of deaths from snakebites could be close to a hundred per year.
HHiSS aims to implement the following:
- Sensitize the community about snake safety. As part of the sensitization, brochures, both in English and in the local language (Chewa) will be handed out and posters will be provided for public places.
- Train people (game rangers and selected people in the communities) in snake handling so they can remove problematic snakes for others and form a safer alternative to killing snakes. HHiSS will also provide snake handling equipment.
- Train health professionals in the area in snakebite treatment.
- Give first aid in snakebite training to anyone interested in the area, including staff at the various lodges. This may likely be done in combination with a general first aid training by First Aid Africa.
Before and after the interventions, HHiSS will conduct an assessment of the number of snake encounters, killed snakes, snakebites, casualties etc. By comparing the numbers before and after, they can assess the impact of the activities, can inform future interventions elsewhere in Zambia, as well as policy decisions.
Like Save The Snakes, HHiSS is convinced that sensitization is the key intervention in a country like Zambia, where the costs for adequate snakebite treatment is beyond reach. In addition, less snakes will be killed when people know of other ways in which to co-exist with snakes.
For more information, please visit Helping Hands in Snake Safety’s website: www.hhiss.com or contact them an email via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Support Helping Hands in Snake Safety
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