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Behold the snake charmer

Living in the Pilbara and Goldfields where 27 venomous land snakes, six pythons and several worm-like blind snakes are known to live, you might often have wondered how to tell the difference. Perhaps you work in an industry where you frequent their habitat, or are looking at finding a new occupation where knowing which is which might save your life, or someone else’s.

Reptile lovers, miners, mothers wanting to protect their children and pets, gardeners, property managers through to vets, doctors and other health professionals have all studied to not only increase their knowledge to observe, but also to catch and relocate these reptiles safely.

North Regional TAFE holds regular courses on Snake Handling throughout the Pilbara, culminating in a Regulation 17(i) licence and a Certificate of Competency in Snake Management, regulated by the WA Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions.

The course covers understanding snake and reptile behaviour, understanding and utilising protective clothing and equipment, administering appropriate first aid for bites and stings, catching and releasing venomous species in a supervised setting and how to keep yourself and others safe in the presence of dangerous snakes.

Lecturer Brian Bush is a well-known identity throughout Australia both with the scientific community and with the many students that have studied under his erudite tuition. Not only does he know his subject, but he lives and breathes it, often stopping by the roadside to photograph reptiles, collect them for research under DBCaA issued licences, or milk to provide venom to universities or health researchers. Currently he is collecting several species of small snakes that will be sent to South Australia for research into their venom. 

“I often travel with 15 – 20 snakes in the car,” he says. Some toxins and venoms produced by reptiles and amphibians are useful in human medicine. Currently, some snake venom has been used to create anti-coagulants that work to treat stroke victims and heart-attack cases.

Covered by a public liability insurance issued by Lloyds of London, Brian’s courses are truly hands-on, but not without the theoretical knowledge first. An author of both published scientific articles and manuals, Brian ensures that all his students first learn the ability to identify the difference between venomous and non-venomous creatures. 

“Several people, including snake-busters, have been bitten by the venomous Rosen’s Snake they had handled after mistaking it for a nonvenomous python,” he says, “so identification definitely comes first.” 
In order for students to be able to manage the snakes, Brian teaches them how to become - and remain - calm.

“If you are hyped up, then the snakes will react accordingly,” he says. “If you are calm and relaxed, you can use the animal’s own behaviour to do what you want them to do.” 
In line with this, the course includes techniques and improvisation in order to use whatever items are around to be fashioned into handling equipment to enable you to get the snakes our of either the home or workplace environment.

Referred to often as the "old man perentie" his snake collection is large by W A standards. He has done numerous articles and has a small elapid snake named after him, Parasuta spectabilis bushi and a Pilbara endemic arboreal monitor lizard Varanus bushi.

At 70 years of age, Brian describes Herpetology -  (from Greek "herpein" meaning "to creep") the branch of zoology concerned with the study of reptiles (including snakes, lizards, amphisbaenids, turtles, terrapins, tortoises, crocodilians, and the tuataras) - as an addictive interest.

“The love of Natural History is genetic – it’s in the family,” he says, despite having been hospitalised seven times in over 40 years from snakebites. He was quoted in a recently reprinted article from the Western Australian Society of Amateur Herpetologists Newsletter 1995 No.3 , "any keeper of venomous snakes who has not been bitten must be too rough on the animals".

He believes the greatest fallacy concerning Australia's snakes is that they are the deadliest in the world. “More correctly,” he says, “it should be, Australia has the deadliest snakes in the world - if you are a mouse! There have only been 13 human deaths since 1980,” he says, “when no pressure bandage was applied.” Of those 13 deaths, 10 were from the brown snakes group, common in the Pilbara.

“The bite of the Brown snake doesn’t really hurt,” according to Brian, “and that of the deadly Western Brown (also known by its Aboriginal name - Gwardar) causes only a little local pain and may go unnoticed by a victim if bitten at night.” 

“This slender snake grows to 160 cm and varies tremendously in colour and pattern,” he says. “It is active day and night dependent on temperature and its appearance varies greatly.” 

To attend the Snake Handling TAFE course, you must wear Personal Protective Equipment, including long trousers and covered footwear.

For upcoming Snake Handling course dates, please click here.

Page last updated February 20, 2018