Venomous Snakes of the Cape Peninsula
(which can be fatal to humans)
Cape Cobra Naja Nivea Neurotoxic Venom Pressure bandage,
transport to hospital immediately, support breathing
Puffadder Bitis Arietans Cytotoxic Venom Pressure bandage,
transport to hospital
Boomslang Dispholidus Typus Haemotoxic Venom Pressure
transport to hospital
Rinkhals Hemachatus Haemachatus Neurotoxic Venom Pressure
transport to hospital
A few points to remember
a.. Humans kill many more snakes than snakes kill humans.
b.. You are statistically more likely to be struck by lightning or
kicked to death by a donkey than to die of snakebite. More people die of
human bites in South Africa than of snake bites.
c.. Leave the snake alone - and it will leave you alone. Most bites
occur when people attempt to kill snakes.
d.. A snake bite does not necessarily mean an envenomated bite -
injection of venom is under the snake's control.
e.. Should you be bitten - remain calm under all circumstances.
Panic and shock are bigger killers than venom.
How to avoid being bitten by snakes
a.. Look ahead and scan the path or area you are about to cross. A
general awareness in the bush will do much to help you see a snake in good
b.. Do not step over logs and larger rocks because a snake could be
basking on the other side. Step onto such obstacles.
c.. When making your way through long grass and thick bush, wear
long trousers, boots or stout shoes.
d.. Do not venture abroad at night without footwear and a good
e.. Never put an unprotected hand down a burrow or hole in the
ground because a snake may be using this as a lair.
f.. If you come across a snake, leave it alone because it will be
far safer for you and those with you. Attempts to kill the snake are far
more likely to result in injury to you and your companions. When the
panic-stricken hurl rocks and shoot at snakes, the risk of an accident is
increased. Stand still or back away slowly.
g.. Do not tamper with seemingly dead snakes. Never handle an
apparently dead snake with bare hands. Rinkals are experts at feigning
death. They may even twist themselves upside down and lie with their mouth
open and the tongue lolling out. Adders may remain quite immobile despite
provocation and then strike very rapidly.
h.. If your home borders on bush, do not leave piles of rubbish
lying about. Pieces of corrugated iron, asbestos sheeting, piping, crates
and cartons provide excellent cover for snakes and their prey. Keeping your
property tidy will make snakes easier to see and discourage those traversing
your grounds from staying either to seek shelter or prey. It is also easier
and safer to kill a dangerous snake on open ground.
i.. If you are starting to keep or already keep snakes for a hobby,
do not believe that they will get to know you and become less dangerous as
time goes on. They may well become tamer in the sense that they do not head
for cover in the cage as you approach and individual snakes may allow you to
handle them. To show that you can handle a dangerous snake like a harmless
snake is foolish and exposes you to the risk of serious injury. No matter
how tame you think a snake has become, remember that a quick movement made
unconsciously near it will precipitate an instinctive strike.
FIRST AID in SNAKEBITE:
a.. DO NOT INJECT ANTIVENOM. Unless you are hours away from a
physician or medical facility anti-venom should not be injected by the
layperson. Anti-venom is refined from horse serum and a percentage of people
are highly allergic to it. Anaphylactic shock WILL kill your patient -
whereas the patient stands a good chance of surviving the bite without
anti-venom. Anti-venom is best left to the professionals in a proper
facility where life-support systems are available. It should normally be
unnecessary for the layperson to use anti-venom anywhere within the
b.. DO NOT CUT INTO THE BITE All you will probably do is assist the
venom to spread more rapidly.
c.. DO NOT SUCK ON THE BITE If you have cuts in your mouth there
will be two patients where there was one. If you have a suction device it
may be applied or you can attempt sucking through a dental dam - should you
have one handy.
d.. DO NOT APPLY ELECTRICAL SHOCK TO THE PATIENT A myth has grown up
that application of shock or a stun gun is of assistance. This is a pure
myth without any basis in fact whatsoever. You are more likely to kill than
cure using this method.
e.. DO NOT GIVE DRUGS OR INTOXICANTS TO THE PATIENT Unless advised
by a medical practitioner. Application of these substances make diagnosis
far more difficult once you arrive at the hospital.
f.. DO NOT RUB TOPICAL SUBSTANCES INTO THE WOUND You may clean the
wound with a little mild disinfectant and dress it lightly with something
like Betadine ointment - but preferably leave it alone.
g.. DO NOT APPLY A TOURNIQUET You are likely to do far more damage
with the tourniquet than without.
h.. DO NOT APPLY ICE OR HEAT TO THE WOUND Neither is of any use -
but both may harm.
Shock - How to Recognise and Treat
Shock is a condition in which the circulatory system fails to
circulate blood throughout the body properly. It is a progressive
deteriorating condition that can be fatal. It is present to some degree in
ALL physical trauma Shock CAN kill. The first indication that a person is
going into shock is restlessness or irritability.
Some of the symptoms of shock are:
a.. Heavy or difficult breathing
b.. Rapid breathing
c.. Racing or Pounding heartbeat
d.. Rapid, weak pulse
e.. Excessive sweating
f.. Pale or bluish skin
g.. Excessive thirst
h.. Nausea, vomiting
i.. Drowsiness or unconsciousness.
Although it is impossible to care for shock by first-aid alone, you
can take measures that could be life-saving. First-Aid Treatment for shock
a.. Reassure the victim and keep him/her calm. Help them rest
comfortably (pain can intensify the body's stress, which accelerates shock).
b.. Have the victim lie down. Keeping them comfortable is the key.
c.. Keep your patient from becoming overheated or chilled. If a
source of cold water is nearby, wet a cloth and wash their face regularly
and lie them in the shade. If it is a cold day, wrap them in a blanket.
d.. If you sense that the victim is slipping into unconsciousness,
take measures to prevent this from happening.
e.. Above all, keep the victim comfortable! Strike up a conversation
with them and continue to reassure them.
f.. Once shock sets in, the victim's condition will continue to
deteriorate, so getting help or getting the victim to help ASAP is the most
The first aid of choice, in snakebite, is the pressure bandage
The aim of the pressure bandage is to immobilise the limb and restrict
the flow in the lymphatic system. This will slow the transport of the venom
dramatically giving you the few hours extra to transport the patient to a
well-equipped facility where medical practitioners can take over. A word of
advice - many medical men have never seen or treated snakebite. It is fairly
rare. Telephone your nearest Poison Centre, University or Snake Park. They
usually are able to give advice on physicians with experience of handling
snake envenomation. You may ask the treating physician to consult with such
a person. Application of the pressure bandage: Get the victim to lie down
immediately. Relax and reassure them. Keep calm yourself - you will have
enough time. Talk soothingly and be confident. Using a crÍpe bandage (or
torn up strips of material) bandage the bitten limb. Start at the bite site
and work upwards. Do not remove clothes as the movement required will assist
the venom to spread. Wrap the limb as tightly as you would for a sprain.
Firm, but do not cut off the blood supply. Apply a splint to the limb to
immobilise it. Avoid massaging or rubbing the bite area. Do not remove the
pressure bandage until medical personnel are ready to start treatment.