The mild and dry winter has seen an early start to ‘snake season’ in the Illawarra according to snakecatcher Ray McGibbon.
Mr McGibbon has had almost 400 call-outs in the past two years to capture snakes from homes and backyards, schools and shopping centres across the Illawarra and Southern Highlands.
But far from enjoying a well-earned break this winter, he’s been inundated with calls for help.
“The warm, dry weather combined with the continued development of natural habitats where snakes live means that there’s a lot of snake activity right throughout the year now,” Mr McGibbon said.
“The back of Albion Park, Jamberoo and Kiama, Farmborough Heights and Figtree, and Woonona/ Bulli are some of the areas I’ve been called to in the last six months.
“There’s been several mildly venomous and highly venomous snakes around including red-bellied black snakes, golden crowns, mainland tiger snakes and small-eyed snakes.”
Mr McGibbon, who runs Ozstyle Reptiles, works to educate people about snakes – to ensure the safety of both.
“They’re not out to hurt anyone they don’t want to hurt anyone, they just want to do their own thing,” he said.
“If people can just take the time to understand these reptiles the better we both will be, as the conservation of reptiles is as just important as the cute and cuddly koalas we share the area with.”
In 2017, there were 12 presentations to Wollongong Hospital’s emergency department for suspected snake bites.
An Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District spokeswoman said there was no shortage of snake bite antivenom available, despite claims to the contrary by NSW Labor.
“All hospitals in the district stock the requisite amount of antivenom for brown snake, tiger snake as well as funnel-web spider bites,” she said.
“In addition, ISLHD hospitals have Polyvalent antivenom which can be used as a generic treatment for most poisonous snake and spider bites.”
However Labor’s health spokesman Walt Secord has called for an audit of the state’s hospitals’ antivenom supplies.
“Farmers in western NSW, the New England area and northern NSW are already referring to numerous ‘close calls’ with delays in responding to snake bites,” he said.
“The Berejiklian Government has become complacent regarding antivenom stock and there are many hospitals which have out-of-date or no supply at all.
“It has become a lottery, where you turn up and hope there is a supply of antivenom.”
NSW Health denied the claims, with a spokesperson stating that all public hospitals were required to store brown, tiger snake and polyvalent antivenom.
Meantime local health districts also took into consideration their location and degree of isolation; local snake populations and history of snakebites in the area as well as their hospitals’ policies around referral of cases to other hospitals.
Mr McGibbon said if people came across a snake, they should stand still as snakes reacted to rapid movement, and then slowly back away in the opposite direction they came from.
“Stay at a safe distance and call your local licensed snake catcher to come and remove the reptile,” he said.
“Also keep an eye on the reptile so the catcher knows the location of that said snake in your yard or wherever it may be.”
Those who are unfortunate enough to get bitten, should “stay calm, and don’t move”.
“If bitten on the arm take off any jewellery as localised swelling will accrue,” he said.
“Then apply a compression bandage over the bite site, wrap up the limb then wrap down the limb again, also mark the bite site on the bandage so medical staff know the location.
“After applying the bandage apply a splint to help stop the movement of the limb – as venom travels through the lymphatic system, then enters the blood stream.
”Once first aid is applied to the bite site call an ambulance, do not move until they get to you.”
Mr McGibbon also collects funnel-webs to send off for milking to make antivenom and for medical purposes.