Snake Season in Australia: Keeping Children & Pets Safe

by BobinOz on September 23, 2013

in Australia's Bad Things

There’s no such thing as “Snake Season” really, but as the temperatures rise during early spring here, so do snake sightings and encounters. Already this year we’ve had three stories in the news.

Firstly, I heard that in Wynnum, which is in east Brisbane on Bayside, a 2 metre long carpet Python (which is a non-venomous snake) like this one…

Carpet python front 480x249 Snake Season in Australia: Keeping Children & Pets Safe

…was spotted crossing the road. There was also a sighting of a red bellied black (which is venomous) close to Wynnum Memorial Park. That was on 16 September and you can read more at the Courier Mail.

It’s at this time of year that snakes are on the move looking for a mate, that’s why we are seeing more activity; the guy snakes are looking for a girlfriend snake.

Three days earlier the news covered a story of how a dog “saves family” from a poisonous brown snake. The YouTube video has now been taken down, but I watched it and I could see no evidence that the snake was attacking any family members, but I’m sure the parents feel more comfortable now that the snake is gone.

It’s great to see that Geoff the Staffie survived his encounter, this next dog wasn’t so lucky.

This item may have only hit the news today, but it was on September 12 when Bonnie the border collie got bitten by an eastern brown snake in Acacia Ridge, which is about 12 kilometres east of where I live. She didn’t survive. Again, the full story is at the Courier Mail.

My own snake/pet story dates back to last month; it was on 18 August that I discovered a small and, unfortunately, dead baby snake in my back garden.

The killer would have undoubtedly been one of my cats and from the photographs my snake expert tells me that he tends to believe this was a young brown snake, probably around 12 months old…

baby snake 480x360 Snake Season in Australia: Keeping Children & Pets Safe

Baby snake close up 480x360 Snake Season in Australia: Keeping Children & Pets Safe

Which ever one of my cats attacked this poor snake was lucky to survive; even a baby snake has enough venom to kill an adult, let alone a cat. I’m not proud of the fact that my cats attack wildlife like this, and I truly wish that they wouldn’t. On the other hand though, with a young daughter who often plays in the garden with her friends, I’m not keen on the world’s second most venomous snake being in the same place at the same time either.

Keeping children and pets safe from snakes

Pets

The problem with cats and dogs is that they are often either very inquisitive, or aggressive. Any snake sighting is bound to provoke a response.

The best way to keep your cats and dogs safe from snakes is, of course, to keep them indoors. For the most part, our dog is an indoor dog, other than letting her out to go to the toilet. Our dog also gets regular exercise from being taken to the dog park which is fenced.

Although a snake could easily get into the area, any snake would have to be suicidal to hang around in a dog park.

Our cats are outdoor cats during the day, but we inherited them when they were 8 years old as outdoor cats, so switching them to indoor cats didn’t seem right.

Indoor cats do, on average, live much longer than outdoor cats, not just because of snakes, but also because they are safe from ticks, traffic, dogs, possums, other aggressive cats and the many infectious diseases that they can catch from other cats.

Children

The best thing you can do for your children, yourself and your pets is to keep your garden and surrounding outdoor area as tidy as possible.

  • Keep the grass cut short.
  • Keep the weeds down.
  • Keep outdoor sheds and garages tidy.
  • Don’t pile up compost, weeds or cuttings in your yard.
  • Don’t leave out any food or water sources for snakes.
  • Be aware that ponds and water features can attract snakes.
  • Basically, eliminate all sources of cover under which a snake could hide.

Doing these sort of things will not safeguard your garden from snakes, but it will mean if a snake is on your property you’re more likely to see it. It also makes it less likely a snake will want to go onto your property as snakes much prefer to roam around under cover and in thick vegetation.

When out and about, never walk in long grass or weeds and never put your hands into an area where you can’t see what might be in there.

Further information:

There’s much more information in Geoff’s book, that’s Geoff the snake catcher, not Geoff the Staffie, which has a whole host of information about snake safety, keeping your pets safe and protecting your home from snakes.

It has a complete chapter on pets with some fascinating facts and figures on the numbers of pets that get bitten by snakes each year, along with the survival rates for both cats and dogs.

Finally, just to be clear, I’m telling you this not to scare you, but to make you aware. Living in constant fear of snakes is not the Australian way, being aware of the dangers and knowing what the true risks are is.

After all, us humans like to come out to play in the Australian heat as well.

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Paula September 23, 2013 at 9:23 pm

Having recently moved to the Gold Coast from Canada this is our (or mine) biggest fear. We live with bush right behind our property. I’ve been able to befriend 7 kookaburras into the back yard which are keeping the lizards at bay. Hoping their presence will keep the snakes away too. Plus bought some of those snake repellers that vibrate the ground as well. Having 2 young children I don’t want to leave anything to chance.

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BobinOz September 24, 2013 at 6:29 pm

Ah, yes, they’re great for a laugh those kookaburras, aren’t they? I think they will serve you better than those snake repeller things, I’ve not heard anything to suggest that they will work. Kookaburras, on the other hand, will kill and eat a snake. Fair game when that happens, it’s nature.

I honestly don’t think you should overly worry about snakes, but just be aware they could be around and keep everything in your garden tidy as mentioned above.

Look on the bright side, we don’t have grizzly bears here :-)

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John Seabrook September 27, 2013 at 12:35 am

Hello Bob, and Paula. Kookaburras are the best birds on the planet. No fear of snakes. Always in charge. Oblivious to the pestering of lesser birds. And have the most distinctive call. Raucous to some, but music to others. The Pied Butcher Bird, by the way, has a beautiful call by comparison. You might hear it at daybreak if they are in your area. And the common white backed Magpie has a call unrivalled in the bird world for its range. Always in the morning. You know you’re in Australia when you hear it.

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BobinOz September 27, 2013 at 7:13 pm

Hi John

I am a convert too, I love kookaburras, probably my favourite bird. I think it’s impossible not to be happy when you hear those things laughing from the trees.

There was one bird that got to me though, took a while to identify it, check out my post Oh No! Trouble with the Neighbours.

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scot October 1, 2013 at 7:00 pm

Brown snakes, BTW, unlike most other snakes, are not afraid of you, and will aggressively and actively stalk you.

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Geoff Coombe October 2, 2013 at 10:00 am

Not my experience with any type of brown snake Scot.
The majority of my work with snakes over 40 years has been with different browns. My particular bag is understanding how they behave when in the vicinity of people (one or more humans).
Definitely one of Australia’s most nervous snakes, but if you know how to behave when one is nearby, there is no reason why a brown snake will “attack” you.
They may react vigorously to a large moving object too close (= an unknowing person) if you don’t give them the chance to get away.
Humans stalk. But snakes may skulk.

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BobinOz October 2, 2013 at 2:50 pm

Skulk: “Keep out of sight, typically with a sinister or cowardly motive.”

I’m not suggesting that any of my readers didn’t know the meaning of the word skulk, but I wanted to look it up myself to know precisely what it means and having done so I think it’s a great word to use when it comes to brown snakes.

Thanks for answering this Geoff, my view is the same, a brown snake will normally only get aggressive if it really feels it’s being threatened, give it a chance to get away and it will. Us humans are simply too big for a brown snake to eat and as such he really has no interest in attacking us.

If brown snake’s really did aggressively stalk humans, people would be dying every day.

Scott, just so that you know, Geoff is my resident snake expert here, he has a book called Living with Snakes.

Cheers, Bob

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Tanya December 29, 2013 at 9:42 pm

After a very expensive run in with our 2 dogs and 1 brown snake, I would like to “snake” fence a run area for our dogs. I know that the fence would probably not be 100%, but our Jack Russell will just keep on hunting them out, and our Douge de Bordeaux is stupid enough to join in, hence two bitten dogs. We live outside Mackay in Qld and are surrounded by cane. Do you have any fencing suggestions for us? I know all snakes can climb, I’m just wondering if there is no food source and an obstacle in the way of a fence, if the browns and taipans would be more inclined to follow the mouse & snake netting and go around?
Thanks.

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Geoff Coombe December 30, 2013 at 10:30 am

Tania, making a “snake proof” fence is possible, up to a point. Material-wise it is fairly simple by buying a quantity of shade cloth (or similar) at least 1.5 metres wide, the length obviously depending on how big an area you wish to enclose. If you have larger snakes in your area shade cloth up to 2 metres wide would be better.
Fix about 3/4 of it (with staples, nails, wire, however) vertically to the outside (“snake side”) of an existing fence so that it is secure around the perimeter of the area to be protected. Do not cut the shade cloth at ground level, rather allow the other 1/4 to lay over the ground so that it is shaped like an ‘L’, with the apron on the “snake side”.
You must somehow fix the horizontal part of the shade cloth to the ground so that a snake cannot crawl under it. This may be by using pegs, rocks, soil, rubble, or even burying the leading edge of it. This aspect is very important to do correctly otherwise the fence will not serve its purpose.
You should have fixed the shade cloth at the top of your existing fence & also the bottom of the fence where the apron goes out at ground level.
You could make an entirely enclosed area for your pets this way, but what about access to it? A gate is the weak point.
Having said all of this, there can be a significant danger: if the “snake proof” area is not maintained & a venomous snake is able to enter it, the problem for your dogs is potentially worse as now a snake may not be able to quickly find its way out before being attacked (& a dog is bitten).
If you are not sure or want more information let me know.
Regards Geoff

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BobinOz January 1, 2014 at 11:15 pm

There’s your answer Tanya, Geoff (thanks Geoff) is a snake expert. It’s doable, but also not ideal if a snake does get in. Would be great if you could train your dogs to leave snakes alone, but I suspect that’s not doable :-)

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Geoff Coombe January 2, 2014 at 10:14 am

Training dogs to keep away from snakes does appear to be “doable” Bob as there is evidence that it has been successful overseas.

Would it work with our snakes? There are a few people in South Australia who are currently looking at trialling the idea here, but it’s very early days.

If it seems feasible I’ll let you know of our progress.

Regards Geoff

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BobinOz January 5, 2014 at 9:00 pm

Well, if it is feasible Geoff, I’m sure it’s the way to go. Yes, please do let me know of your progress, very interesting.

Still trying to train my dog not to bark at the moon :-)

Cheers, Bob

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Dee Smith January 8, 2014 at 8:08 pm

Living on a large farm in the south of Western Australia, snakes are always an issue. Thankfully we have two racehorse goannas living here too, great snake deterrents. My question is: please advise what I should do when unexpectedly facing a snake (dugite or tiger) that’s aware of my presence. Do I stop still, hoping the creature won’t continue on its journey via my feet, or do I back off quickly?

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Geoff Coombe January 9, 2014 at 9:01 am

Dee you have the perennial dilemma of anyone in Australia who may regularly have snakes on their property.
What to do when confronted by a snake may depend on the circumstances.

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Geoff Coombe January 9, 2014 at 9:43 am

Oops not sure what happened there Dee but I have more to add.
Where was the snake seen at the time? When (i.e. what time of the year). And what was it doing? Was it moving or basking in the early morning for example.
The behavior of Eastern Brown Snakes has been studied in great detail by scientists, including specifically what happens when humans & snakes interact. Since Dugites are a species of brown snake, it would be reasonable to think that there may be similarities in their behavior.
I have been working closely with venomous snakes since the early 1970s, including both species you mention.
What I know echoes what has been found from the scientific studies about the behavior of snakes: if you are not perceived by a snake as a potential threat it will have no reason to “attack” you. Mostly they respond to movement so the idea of keeping still has merit when a snake is close by. The problem can be if a snake itself is moving & if so frightened by a human tries to get to somewhere safe, it may move in your direction to go to the nearest cover. You may think you are being “chased” or “attacked” & have to defend yourself.
Add the sometimes spectacular defensive display of a Tiger Snake or Dugite & an unknowing human is convinced the snake is out to get them.
In a nutshell, stay still while watching the snake to see what it will do. If it heads towards you try not to panic, but don’t do anything to disturb it while it goes to ground somewhere.
If you want more information, Bob sells my ebook that goes into detail about human-snake interactions, with up-to-date information about snake bite first aid too.
Hope that helps you.
Regards Geoff

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Dee Smith January 9, 2014 at 2:18 pm

Thank you for your suggestions. When next faced with the problem I’ll be better prepared. You’ll get a laugh on me with my first snake episode, twenty years ago now: a dugite appeared on our front verandah. I panicked and ran out the back door, grabbed a plastic bucket and headed out to find the snake to scare it off. At the time my footwear was a pair of thongs! Now is that dumb or is that dumb? Thankfully the creature had continued on its journey and wasn’t seen again. D

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Geoff Coombe January 9, 2014 at 3:03 pm

Thongs are not as good as wearing solid footwear & trousers. Instead of a plastic bucket, next time try using a kitchen or yard broom if you have a snake near (or in) a building.
Because of the long handle you can keep a good distance from the “bitey” end while sweeping the frightened creature across the floor & in the direction you want it to go.
Using a hand broom would be a bit risky.
Regards Geoff

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BobinOz January 9, 2014 at 4:41 pm

Hi Dee, yes, I do sell Geoffs book here, and very good it is too. You can read more here: Living with Snakes.

Geoff, I think what many people would like to know is is this. Standing still is often advised in some situations as snakes tend to ignore non-moving objects. So, when someone sees a snake, is it so wrong to run like Billio? In other words, run away in the opposite direction as fast as possible?

Surely we can outrun snakes? And surely a snake wouldn’t bother to give chase anyway?

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Geoff Coombe January 11, 2014 at 2:39 pm

Fair point Bob.

A fit adult should be able to outrun any Australian snake in the open. But what if you have to move amongst grass or negotiate bushes or debris to escape? A legless animal (= a snake) may be more able to move through such cover faster than a human.

I would agree that putting space between you and a snake sounds a good idea. If it is close though, standing still would be better than jumping back & running. A danger when someone is frightened in these circumstances can be that the person trips & now cannot move away.

Being face to face on the ground with a venomous snake is not a good idea. It’s even worse if you trip & land on it.

Regards Geoff

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BobinOz January 13, 2014 at 2:27 pm

Fair point back Geoff, falling over in your haste would not be ideal.

Cheers, Bob

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