Ongoing flooding across Australia’s southeast has prompted warnings from wildlife experts to be on the lookout for snakes in homes and backyards.
South Australia is bracing for flooding in coming weeks as water makes its way into the River Murray from NSW and Victoria, with thousands of homes at risk.
As river towns brace for the worst, Karl Hillyard, principal ecologist at the SA Department for Environment and Water, has warned residents to be wary of wildlife fleeing the rising waters.
“If there are snakes where the water’s rising, they’ll go somewhere it’s not wet,” he told The Guardian.
“I don’t think we’re expecting anything biblical, but it’s natural to expect they’ll swim. If they’re in your house, contact a professional snake catcher. Don’t stick your hands where you can’t see. Clean up your yard. And if you have a rat or mice infestation, get on top of it – or the snakes will.”
Professor Richard Kingsford, a river ecologist from the University of New South Wales, told the publication floodwater would flush out animals who have “set up homes in the cracks and burrows”.
He said aquatic types such as the red-bellied black snake, but others like deadly brown snakes would flee.
“They’re in escape mode,” he said. “They’ll climb up trees, they’ll go wherever they can. A lot will die. Some will go out to the margins.”
Earlier this week, snake catcher Rolly Burrell prompted horrified reactions on Facebook when he shared a picture of a monster brown snake caught recently in Myponga, an hour south of Adelaide.
Eastern brown snakes are highly venomous and are rated as having the second most toxic of all snake venoms in the world, only after the Inland Taipan, which is also native to Australia.
Mr Burrell was called to the property on Saturday after the owner found the nearly two-metre long snake hiding under a pile of wheat bags in their driveway.
He told The Advertiser that he hadn’t seen a brown snake that size in years, revealing he had “trouble getting it into the bag because it was so long”.
Mr Burrell said the snake was “aggressive” and he became so nervous during the encounter that he became worried he had soiled himself.
“When I was driving home, I felt a bit of a wet patch when I was sitting down so I think I s**t myself,” he told the publication.
Water flowing into South Australia from flood-hit NSW and Victoria is expected to peak next week, with a second, larger peak predicted around Christmas.
The event is not expected to surpass the “Great Flood of 1956”, the worst on record described as “the greatest catastrophe in the state’s history”.
According to The Advertiser, the “Big Wet” displaced thousands of people, wiped out crops, crippled local industries and left a damage bill in the millions of dollars.
Local historian Alison Painter later wrote, “One side-effect of the floods was reported from near Meningie where a dairy farmer killed 1032 tiger snakes driven on to his property from their normal swamp habitat as the waters spread inland.”
It comes as farmers in NSW report increased snake sightings due to floodwaters forcing the reptiles onto higher ground.
“Just yesterday one of our members said she saw three black snakes near her place in a really short space of time, and it’s been like this for a while, they’re just trying to escape the water like we all are,” Sarah Thompson from the NSW Farmers Rural Affairs Committee said on Wednesday.
“It’s a worry because people with dogs or who are going out to move stranded livestock are at a higher risk of being bitten. This is happening everywhere, we’ve heard recently about livestock being lost to snakes because some farms are more like islands than paddocks, and they can’t get to a vet.”
The spike in snake numbers coincided with increased activity during summer months.
According to the Australian Reptile Park, Australia sees approximately 3000 snake bites each year, about 10 per cent of which require antivenom.
In urban areas, homeowners are advised to keep lawns short and avoid piling up household items as a deterrent.
Ms Thompson said for flood-affected rural communities, vigilance was key.
“Everyone’s trying to stay dry and the snakes are no exception,” she said.
“We know snakes aren’t generally trying to hurt us or our animals, but coming closer together because of flooding increases the risk of an attack for humans and animals. People just need to use some common sense, keep an eye out and be extra careful.”