Most snakes are harmless and are afraid of humans – expert

A Lilongwe based snake handler has tipped Malawians on how to handle snakes when they encounter them saying many snakes in the country are harmless and only bite as a last resort.

The expert, Gary Brown, said the snakes will always move away when they detect humans since they are more afraid of humans than people are afraid of them.

“They will only bite as a last resort, defending themselves, often when stood on, or being attacked when found by someone who does not know how to deal with them safely,” he said.

Brown added that sometimes the snakes bite in warning and don’t inject any venom as there is no benefit for them to bite and use venom since humans are not snakes’ food.

“I have stood in front of a pitting cobra, to get pictures, leaving it plenty of room to escape, at no time did it try to attack me, or even spray venom. We have two cobras that spray venom, up to about 3m away. If you don’t threaten a snake, it won’t attack,” said Brown.

According to Brown, there are 66 recorded different species of snakes in Malawi of which 13 are considered dangerous and of those 13, only 4 are recorded in the capital city with the rest of the districts sharing the remaining population.

Brown who has lived in Malawi for 43 years also said that there are no Black or Green Mamba types of snake in Lilongwe.

He further said he has come across only one death from snake bite in Malawi which happened in Liwonde a few years ago when a person climbed a tree and removed the snake (Black Mamba) to show it to tourists.

“Having done it many times before. He believed he was safe from any bite, by something the witchdoctor gave him, so when he was bitten, he did not seek help. It took 4 hours for him to die,” he said.

Brown noted that many bites are from harmless snakes and require no medical attention but for people to be sure they are safe they need to know the type of snake that has bitten them.

“I am sure there are many bites in rural areas, that go unreported, and treated by someone in the village, and if it is a harmless snake, everyone believes he has cured them. Anti-venom is often used, but not always, for serious snake bites, and needs to be dealt with by a doctor who knows how to use it, and can also read the symptoms, the patient is showing, from the bite,” he said.

To continue raising awareness about snakes, Brown created a Facebook Group called Snakes and Creepy Crawlies of Malawi where he helps people identify snakes and learn which snakes are dangerous and which ones are harmless.

He has also previously done a few demonstrations at the Lilongwe Farmers market where people got a chance to handle harmless snakes in a controlled environment.

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