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As people and wild snakes move ever closer in proximity because of habitat encroachment, chance encounters with venomous species are on the rise. Over the past 10 to 20 years, herpetoculture, or the hobby of keeping snakes, has grown by leaps and bounds in popularity in many countries. There are even many hobbyists who maintain venomous species, which enthusiasts often refer to as "hot" snakes. Folks who discover any snake in their yard are usually very interested in safely relocating the uninvited guest to more suitable quarters. Herpetoculturists occasionally need to move a specimen for cage maintenance or for a trip to the vet. Both situations require some of the same types of snake handling equipment.
The Snake Hook Is the Oldest and Still the Best Handling Tool
Under most circumstances, the oldest traditional method of handling venomous snakes is still one of the easiest. The snake stick, or hook, is used to handle and lift venomous snakes. It is a long piece of lightweight tempered steel and has a curved hook on one end, and a rubber handle similar to a golf club at the other. Different sizes and lengths are commercially available, including collapsible models. For safety reasons, choose hooks about the same length of the snake in question. Models longer than 3 to 5 feet are more difficult to handle, because they can be fairly heavy. For larger snakes, you'll need to use two hooks at the same time for controlling the animal. The snake tong, or grab stick, is a simple mechanical tool with jaws that close around the snake's body and hold it. The handler holds the other end, which is a kind of pistol grip. This isn't the safest tool for the snake, however. Most snakes thrash around and object vehemently to being grabbed in this manner. Many will sustain skin tears and injuries, and often ribs will be broken, particularly at the hands of Inexperienced handlers. If you feel that you must use this tool, glue some sort of padding, such as foam rubber, onto the inside surface of the jaws. When using tongs, always grasp the snake around the centre of its body, never close to the head. Gripping behind the head may cause the weight of the animal, coupled with thrashing, to easily separate the head from the spine, which will kill it instantly. One or two different pairs of forceps are excellent all-purpose tools for the enthusiast. They are great for feeding time, for moving the water dish or for picking skin sheddings out of the cage. Forceps are available in various sizes and shapes. Some are large locking hemostats. Others look more like tweezers, and some even look like big barbecue tongs. Forceps are a must for any time a handler needs to keep hands clear of the snake's strike range. For restraining tasks such as medical treatment, tubes or clear acrylic head restraints are the most effective of all commercially available tools. They are far safer for the handler and much less stressful to the snake than pinning and hand restraining. The tube you choose should be half as long as the length and just a little wider than the snake's body, and will have holes drilled along its length. It's best to have someone help you when you use these. One end of the tube is open; the other is sealed. The snake enters the open tube end, and won't have room to turn its head around. Once its body is all the way into the tube, securely grasp the tube and the snake, trapping it inside. You may now medicate it, pick off parasites or simply move the animal from one location to another. Be careful and don't put your fingers over any of the holes in the tube that are near the head of the trapped snake, to avoid the possibility of coming into contact with a fang poking out of one of them.
The use of pinning sticks for hand-restraining is highly discouraged. Even with the specially designed and well-known pinning sticks, pinning is dangerous. Pinning and subsequently restraining the head of a venomous animal present the perfect scenario to host a nasty bite, and is the handling procedure most likely to result in being envenomated. Agile and active species such as the cobra resist with violent thrashing and twisting. It's even difficult to get the pinning stick properly positioned with all that activity. Should the animal manage to loosen your grip on its head, you're in really big trouble. You'll have to physically wrestle with large, powerful vipers such as gaboons and rattlesnakes, and they almost always win. If your grip is compromised upon releasing the furious serpent, your fingers are awfully close to the business end, which will take a nasty defensive strike the moment it's set free. There are alternative handling methods that are safer for both of you. Only the most experienced of handlers should even attempt using pinning, and that's only if the animal's life is in danger.
Snakes are important predators in our environment, and are significant to modern agriculture. These animals control the harmful pest and rodent populations, making them highly beneficial to humans. It's true that a small percentage of them can pose danger to humans, but their benefits far outweigh the hazards they may present. Ever-increasing encroachment of man's residential areas into the wild habitats of snakes guarantees the occasional encounter with a dangerous reptile. Homeowners may find it desirable to safely relocate snakes from their premises. Others actively seek out venomous snakes for personal collections or for the reptile trade and scientific endeavours. For such individuals, safe and effective tools, as well as the knowledge of their proper use are of the utmost importance.
Snakes Are Vitally Important to Our Environment
It is a sad fact that snakes are considered by most people to be the most despicable, horrible and frightening animals on the planet. Sadder still, these misconceptions are largely out of a fear of the unknown, which begets ignorance when it comes to these beautiful and highly beneficial animals. Humans are not a normal part of the snake's diet, and most will attack people only if they have been startled, frightened or injured. Most of them are more afraid of people than people are of them. Of more than 2700 species of snakes known, only about 400 are venomous. Of those, only about 200 species present a danger to humans. People gravely underestimate the importance of wild snakes. Without the benefit of these predators, it would take approximately 60 to 120 days for the pest and rodent populations to devastate most areas of the world with disease and destruction of crops, food supplies and property. People who are not experienced snake handlers should not play with even harmless snakes without expert supervision, and should certainly never handle a venomous reptile. Snakes should always be handled with the equipment appropriate to the species, and venomous snakes should never be handled by a lone individual. Contrary to what some believe, handling snakes is not "cool," nor is it a hobby for inexperienced people interested in shock value, just for fun or to show off. It's not worth it. Your first mistake involving a "hot" could easily be your last. Don't be too hasty in relying upon antivenin to save your life in a crisis. Although it is true that the serums save lives annually, most people aren't aware that there are individuals who are allergic to the antivenin itself. Allergic reactions to serums can be fatal, or result in serious complications and permanent side effects.
Anywhere that one might encounter snakes, proper handling equipment might be needed. Snakes live on land, in trees and in the oceans. They inhabit forests, mountains, savannahs, caves, holes, sand burrows and deserts. Snakes are most common in North America, South America, Asia, Africa, Europe and Australia.
Just about the only large land masses where these animals will not be found are Greenland and Antarctica. And, according legend, St. Patrick supposedly rid Ireland of the reptiles.
Hand of the Victim of a Rattlesnake Bite
Never handle snakes, venomous or otherwise, while under the influence of any mind-altering substance. Always remain focused and never permit yourself to be distracted, even for a split second. Don't skimp when buying snake handling equipment. Use good judgment where your safety is concerned. Don't risk death or a £32,500 hospital bill just to save £16 by purchasing cheap tools.
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