Who you gonna call? Snake Catchers!
Human-snake conflict is a form of human-wildlife conflict that has not been adequately researched, although the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that more than 500 000 people are injured by snakebites on the African continent each year, leading to death or long-term disability. Even that figure is likely an underestimate, given the very limited data available from hospitals.
The organisation aims to reduce the number of potentially deadly human-snake encounters in Windhoek by understanding and addressing the root causes of this conflict.
Snake expert Francois Theart did a study between 2015 and 2018 on the subject. In 2015, 'Snakes of Namibia' partnered with the Biodiversity Research Centre at Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) to use data on distances snakes cover to take a closer look at human-snake conflict in the city.
“Each time we remove a snake, we note our location, the species of snake and its sex. We used the data to study the occurrence of snakes in the city and the incidence of conflict in different areas,” Theart said.
Between August 2015 and July 2018, the organisation removed 509 snakes representing 17 different species from residential areas. The puff adder (163) and the zebra snake (135) together accounted for 60% of all snake removals. The brown house snake (57) and the boomslang (52) were the next two most commonly removed species. “Interestingly, 62% of the snakes sampled were females and only 38% males, with the exception of the puff adder that had more males sampled. It appears that females searched for nest sites near or inside buildings while males roamed in search of potential mates.”
Many snake species become dormant during periods of severe drought due to lack of food, and begin migrating again after good rains that result in increased prey availability. During heavy rains, the risk of flooding forces the snakes to seek higher ground, possibly ending up in a house or garage as a result.
The areas in Windhoek that reported the most snake conflict were Eros (62), Klein Windhoek (57), Ludwigsdorf and Avis (40), Brakwater (36) and Elisenheim (31). The hardest-hit suburbs are in higher-income areas, possibly due to the well-watered gardens that provide the snakes with ample shelter, water and food.
However, it is also possible that many people in the middle and low income areas are unaware that Snakes of Namibia offers a snake removal service and therefore do not seek help.
“Currently, there are no management strategies to combat human-snake conflict in Namibia; we want to change this situation. This and other studies will help us to understand the movement patterns and environmental preferences of snakes, which we can use to minimize the risk of snake bites,” Theart concludes.