Busy summer for slithery customers

Tyrone Ping releasing a Cape Cobra to the bush.

Mouille Point resident Tyrone Ping has been fascinated by reptiles and crawling animals since he was a child, and he began catching venomous snakes even before obtaining his driver’s licence.

Mr Ping, 36, has trapped and released 40 snakes throughout the holiday season, a figure that will rise as the summer heat continues.

“Snake activity is high during the summer months from November until March or April, but when it gets cooler then you see less snakes. During the winter months we hardly see or get called about snakes and this is a part-time job for me, no one does snake catching on a full-time basis,” said Mr Ping, who works in advertising.

One unusual catch was a Cape Cobra, in Buitengracht Street in the CBD, on December 20.

“People that saw the snake say it came from the drain and these snakes are using this as an easy passage to move around. Usually we do find the snakes in the suburbs but this snake, being so close to town, was unusual.”

The boomslang, Cape cobras and puff adders are the most common snakes on the Atlantic seaboard and Mr Ping said he approaches them with extreme caution.

“You mostly find Cape cobras and puff adders in this area, and in Camps Bay. When I approach the snake I am cautious and I don’t grab them close to their heads. Safety first is always the rule for me but I do know of snake handlers that have been bitten,” he said.

“I’m the only the snake catcher on this side of the Atlantic seaboard and if I get a call in Llandudno for example then I will pass it on to a snake catcher closer to that area as we have to consider traffic and the time that you have to take to get to the location where the snake is spotted. We do ask people to keep their eyes on the snake because they move quickly.”

Mr Ping studied herpetology, the study of reptiles and amphibians, and has written two books about his passion for animals. He believes snakes don’t just simply attack and bite humans.

“I’ve written and still write extensively about snakes and reptiles and what I find, and it’s a misconception that snakes attack people. Snakes don’t just attack humans and they generally try to avoid attacking people. If you do see a snake on the mountain trails it’s probably trying to get away from you, but if you do see a Cape Cobra putting up it’s hood, like it’s standing up, that’s a method of defence, a warning. If that doesn’t work then they will strike but they do try to get away first,” he said.

“Snake bites are expensive to treat, a friend spent over R300 000 on medical expenses and I’ve heard of treatment, anti-venom, that could push the cost close to a million rand. Anti-venom ranges in price and could cost anything from R2000 a vial and you could need 10 or 12 depending on which snake it is and how much you need, so it has serious financial implications,” he said.

“I’ll advise people just to keep eyes on the snake, obviously from a safe distance, and not run away, they should call me or a snake catcher immediately because a snake can move over quite quickly. They shouldn’t try to catch it and they shouldn’t kill it. I ask people to send pictures of the snake and sometimes it turns out to be tiny brown snake, or a plastic snake or a dead snake, a lizard or the tail of a cat, so sending a picture is helpful or else I get there and it’s a false alarm,” Mr Ping said.

One vet warned about the cost of treating a pet bitten by a venomous snake.

“If your pet is bitten by a puff adder or a cobra, it’s crucial to know that antivenom treatment is costly,” warns Dr Karyn Ann Levy, from Noordhoek Veterinary Clinic.

A single vial of antivenom costs about R3800, she says.

“Puff adder bites usually require three to four vials, and cobra bites need four to six vials. So the antivenom cost alone can range from R11 000 to R22 000.”

This excludes any other veterinary treatment, hospitalisation and, in bad cases, ventilator costs, she adds.

According to the provincial government’s website, the Western Cape is home to six snake species of medical significance, including Cape cobras, puff adders, berg adders, boomslangs, rinkhals, and black spitting cobras.

The Cape of Good Hope SPCA reports that among these six venomous snake species, the one generating the highest number of calls is the puff adder.

Steve Meighan, the owner of Deep South Reptile Rescue, says about 12 to 16 people, and even more dogs, are bitten by venomous snakes in the province each year.

“We get over 30 incidents of dogs being bitten by snakes each year throughout the entire Western Cape.”

Puff adders and Cape cobras are most often responsible for venomous bites, he says.

Mr Ping can be reached on 084 492 2542 for snake catching duties on the Atlantic seaboard.

– Additional reporting by Erin Carelse