Snake catcher Andrew Melrose (right) holding a green tree snake he recovered from a house in Sydney. They are the nightmare tenants who can live undetected alongside Australian families for years: the world’s deadliest snakes.
SYDNEY: They are the nightmare tenants who can live undetected alongside Australian families for years: the world’s deadliest snakes.
Australia is home to some of the most venomous species including the lethal eastern brown, which thrive in urban areas where rubbish bins attract prey such as rats and mice.
Sydney snake handler Andrew Melrose says some species even spend winter months comfortably curled up inside warm roofs, until they are disturbed, often by accident. “Some people really panic, and they are screaming,” says Melrose of the residents who call him for help.
“They reckon they are going to sell up and move to a place like New Zealand where there are no snakes.”
The irony is that the reptiles have often been living in the house or garden for years, and it is only something out of the ordinary — such as a rare day off for the homeowner or a building renovation — that brings them to light, Melrose says.
Australia is renowned as being home to a startling number of the world’s deadliest creatures, including a range of venomous snakes, spiders, jellyfish and octopuses that can kill a human within minutes.
Snake deaths are rare, with only an average of one to four each year, in part because the animals shy away from humans.
“Most of the snakes, most of time we don’t see them,” says Ken Winkel, director of the Australian Venom Research Unit at the University of Melbourne, who agrees that many people live alongside snakes for years without knowing it.
“We are more a threat to Australian snakes than vice versa. In the life of the average Australian, it’s uncommon for them to see a dangerous snake.”
Most fatalities are in rural areas but deaths do occasionally occur in cities.
Winkel cites the case of the elderly woman who died after being bitten by a tiger snake while tending her passion fruit vines in Melbourne’s Kew in 2003, and a 16 year-old boy who panicked and ran after being bitten by a brown snake in Sydney in 2007.
Although not as venomous as the inland taipan — which is only found in remote areas — the most common killer in Australia is the eastern brown snake which exceed two metres in length and which is found across the country.
“It’s a very common snake throughout the continent of Australia, combined with the fact that it is not so fussy about what it eats, says Finkel, adding that brown snakes do well in urban habitats.
Snakes usually avoid humans, but curious children present problems.
In 2012 a three-year-old boy in Townsville, Queensland, had a lucky escape when he found some eggs, placed them in a plastic container and hid them in a wardrobe. The eggs hatched deadly eastern brown snakes and he was fortunate not to be bitten.