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3 December 2008

Snakes


GEOFF COOMBE: If you move near it, see how it's moving away from me and, for an animal that's supposedly aggressive, you'd think it would really be having a go by now, and it's not.

If the animal felt safe, it was under cover, it would respond in no way at all to a human, even that close where a human could accidentally stand on it while it's underneath the grass or the vegetation and it doesn't do anything.

That's the boy.

MAN 1: We're too big to eat and they don't really want to waste their venom on us but, by the same token, if they're provoked they will defend themselves.

PETER MIRTSCHIN: Okay, well in this test tube here, this is the one we didn't put any venom in, you can see the blood is quite fluid still. If we have a look at this other one, the one that we put the venom in, you can see that it's quite dramatic in what happens.

You'd better step back a little bit because this one's a bit more nervous than the other snakes.

There we are. You've always got to be very careful handling brown snakes. They're pretty common over a lot of Australia but they're also responsible for most of the deaths that occur in Australia these days.

DR GAEL PHILLIPS: People would occasionally amputate a limb in an attempt to stop the venom spreading.

REPORTER: And it's no wonder the fear of snakes was so strong given the pre-antivenom remedies that were in vogue at the time. The medical profession favoured injections of ammonia and strychnine, cures that were still being used right up until 1915.

DR GAEL PHILLIPS: And these were applied to the bite site to extract the venom by suction.

DAVID ARMSTRONG: Up to about ten years ago, the basic treatment used to be to put on what they call an arterial tourniquet, in other words, above the elbow or above the knee we'd put a very right bandage on, pulled as tight as we could to cut off the circulation but, in fact, in the majority of cases, when he bites the venom is injected just under the skin and the tissues under the skin itself and that consequently the venom actually moves around back up the body and enters the bloodstream somewhere in the neck area. It moves through the body fluids.

Now the best treatment is to take one or two crepe bandages and quite simply you bandage over the wound itself, over the bite, and you take a couple of good firm turns around there and by firm, about the pressure you'd put on a sprained ankle. We've had very few deaths in Australia from snake bite since this treatment has been instigated.

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REPORTER: Welcome to snake catching school, thought to be the only one of its kind in the country, but aren't these apprentice snake catchers taking it all a bit too calmly?

RUDY DELLA FLORA: The brown snake is the most common one that we catch and I'd have to say that that would be the most difficult. So generally, we try to get them to run, as he's doing, and as you can see even though I'm making a lot of movement, he still wants to run away. That's his first instinct.

TIM CLEEMAN: If you don't know what to expect, how the animal behaves, if you're not very safety conscious, as most people don't have those skills, then they can run into problems.

REPORTER: Tim Cleeman even has a few pet snakes but catching a wild one is something else all together.

TIM CLEEMAN: Well, you're really looking at the snake's head and you don't take you eyes off the head because basically that's the sharp end. If you stick away from the sharp end you're going to be all right.

REPORTER: This grumpy looking creature is a Thai cobra. The venom is freeze-dried and sent all over the world to be made into anti-venom or to be researched for its many useful and interesting properties.