Don’t drink and fondle a snake, mate
Darwin’s snake catcher handles the most venomous serpents on the planet.
And, he tells Chris Haslam, trying to impress the birds with one can be fatal
I’m standing somewhat warily on the front porch of a wooden shack in Darwin, capital of Australia’s torrid Northern Territory.
Before me is 23-year-old Chris Peberdy, Darwin’s official snake catcher, and he’s not alone.
The 7ft king brown snake he’s holding up is writhing like a fireman’s hose, doubling back on itself in medusan contortions as it tries with all its might to bite its way out of trouble. Although a single nip from this creature contains enough venom to kill about 125,000 mice, 20 horses and any number of overconfident herpetologists, Chris seems unperturbed.
“Nineteen of the last 26 people to die from snakebite in Oz were bitten by these fellas,” he notes, and steps smartly backwards as the snake lunges for his throat.
“Steve Irwin was a great man — really loved his snakes — but he taught a generation of Aussies a lot of bad habits.”
He kicks the lid from a plastic dustbin and lowers the serpent inside, then turns as though to pass on a gem of inside information.
“You know what? After a night on the piss I leave the snakes alone, mate.”
Like looking for a gas leak with a lighter, drinking and snake handling would appear to be a rather obviously lethal combination.
Chris’s former business partner narrowly escaped death after being nailed on the chest by a taipan — the second most venomous snake in the world.
“Trying to impress a bird again,” shrugs Chris. “He had a bottle of Jim Beam in one hand and the snake around his neck.”
Antivenin, made by injecting poison into horses and extracting the resulting mix, saved his life, but not — apparently — his sanity.
“The mad bastard went off and joined the Foreign Legion after the bite,” says Chris. “He thought it’d be safer. Mate, wrapping a taipan around your neck is like putting your nuts in a blender and flicking the switch on the off-chance you won’t get nailed. Mess with snakes and it’s not a matter of if you’re going to get bitten, it’s simply a matter of when.”
Such was the fate of Chris’s teacher and former city snake catcher, the late Graham Gow. The painted signs for his snake park are still out on the highway, but Graham is long gone. He was bitten over 200 times in his career and “was looking pretty ropey towards the end”, according to Chris.
“It was the antivenin that finally got him: he had so much horse blood in him we were going to enter him for the Melbourne Cup.”
Chris started picking up snakes when he was 12. “I grew up on a cattle station and the fellas there were always catching the buggers. No tongs or nothing — they just stuck a cowboy boot on Joe Blake’s head and brought him to me.” Was he ever scared? “Only when I looked it up in me snake book and realised what it was.”
For a teenage snake fondler there are few places to beat the territory. The top 10 most venomous serpents on earth live in Australia, and the slender western brown snake is at No 4. Chris pops the padlock on another of his plastic dustbins and pulls one out to show me. “See the apricot spots on the belly?” he asks. “Aussie snakes are all members of the elapid family and all the killers have this feature. It’s nature’s way of warning you.” He lets the snake go and it slithers inquiringly towards my boot, its tongue sensing strange odours in the leather.
I ask what happens if he bites me. “It’s the neurotoxins that’ll bugger you with this bastard,” says Chris affectionately. “You’ll be awake and lucid and you’ll just feel your lungs and your heart stop working. If I meet someone who’s been systemically poisoned by a western brown I might as well tell them to take two steps back, line up with the old pine box and drop right in.”
The alternative seems just as grim. “First thing they do when they get you to the hospital is stick a urinary catheter up your old man. Then they call me in to identify the snake.” He grimaces. “It’s not a pretty sight. There’s a bloke lying in bed, scared shitless, with all these tubes coming out of him and what’s left of the snake in a box at the end of the bed. Most of the time it’s something harmless like a python — but how do you tell that to a bloke who’s had a tube stuck up his diggler?” Has Chris ever been bitten? “Not yet, mate.” He shrugs. “But today’s a brand new day.”
Then his mobile rings. “Chris Peberdy speaking . . . g’day Sharon, what’s the problem?” He glances at me. “Snake in the bathroom. Sheila in distress; no worries darling, I’ll be right there.”
The property is in what Darwinians amusingly refer to as the suburbs. I’d call it the wilderness with a road going through it. Houses round here stand typically in five or 10 acres of critter-infested bushland, but the saying goes that if you’ve got snakes, you don’t have rats.
And — no doubt about it — Sharon’s got snake: 6ft long and comfortably fat, it’s digesting a rodent in the lee of her toilet. The flash of my camera wakes it from its repose and it flicks a black tongue at me.
“You’ll be all right, mate,” says Chris soothingly — and needlessly, because snakes don’t have ears and can’t lip read. “He’s cold, which is good, because it makes him slow. And he’s eaten, so he’s happy.” He winks at Sharon. “No worries.”
And suddenly it all goes wrong. As he reaches for the snake it bolts, and instead of seizing it behind the head he grabs it halfway down its body. The snake darts all around the bathroom before it doubles back and lunges, plunging needle-sharp fangs deep into the side of Chris’s hand. Sharon squeals and Chris curses, pinning the snake to the floor and prising its jaws open.
“No worries,” he repeats, a little unconvincingly as he stuffs the writhing reptile into a sack.
A bashful silence descends on Sharon’s bathroom as Chris grabs toilet paper to staunch the wound.
The snakebite contains an anticoagulant so claret is splashing all over the tiled floor. Luckily, the snake was a carpet python and the most he needs is a tetanus jab, but he has clearly had a glimpse of his own mortality. If it had been any other species native to the territory he would now be in serious trouble.
As it turns out, he is merely embarrassed, but Sharon is clearly impressed. As we leave she insists on getting his home phone number . . . just in case. Chris grins as we drive away. “Told you, mate — the sheilas love a snake catcher.”
The world's deadliest serpents
1 Inland taipan (Oxyuranus microlepidotus), Australia. Though shy and rarely encountered, this snake produces the most toxic venom of any on the planet. The maximum recorded yield for one bite was 100mg — enough to kill more than 100 people.
2 Australian brown snake (Pseudonaja textilis), Australia. Despite a tiny head and fangs measuring just 2.8mm, the brown snake is the continent’s biggest killer. One 1/14,000th of an ounce of the snake’s multi-component venom is enough to kill a person.
3 Malayan krait (Bungarus candidus), southeast Asia. A night-biter, the krait strikes without warning, delivering a venom fatal in 50% of bites even after treatment.
4 Taipan (Oxyuranus scutellatus), Australia. Before the development of an effective antivenin in 1956 only two people were known to have survived a taipan bite. The venom in one bite is enough to kill a small village.
5 Tiger snake (Notechis scutatus), Australia. The tiger snake delivers a neurotoxic bite that switches off your nervous system, causing heart and pulmonary failure.
Snakebite: fact and fiction
Snakebite kills more than 125,000 people every year worldwide, and if you’ve just been bitten then any cure probably seems better than none.
Sadly, few work.
In 1870s Australia a Mr Williams made a fortune from his patent snakebite lotion, essentially a bottle of rum with crushed centipedes inside. Since this neither worked nor could be enjoyed as a beverage, it was superseded by the Halford cure, which involved injecting pure ammonia into the bloodstream — a treatment as dangerous as the problem.
Worse still was the Port Curtis cure, where the flesh around the bite was excised, the hole packed with gunpowder and lit. It worked just once — on a woman bitten on the ankle by a brown snake, but only because the charge blew her foot off.
Spurious cures still exist: a current favourite is to lay a live wire on the bite site in the belief that the electricity will reverse the polarity of the proteins in the venom and render it inert. Another old chestnut involves sucking the poison out.
The approved treatment is to prevent the venom spreading through the lymphatic system by wrapping the entire affected limb in a compression bandage. In most cases you’ll have at least three hours to seek medical assistance, where a clear description of the serpent will help find the appropriate antivenin.
A lion was roaming an African jungle.
He was terribly hungry.
Soon, he came across two men sitting under a tree.
One was pounding away on a typewriter.
The other was reading a book.
The lion devoured the man reading the book.
He avoided the writer. Even lions know...
...that readers digest and writers cramp.
Protect your eyes...wear sunglasses
Three old ladies were sitting side by side in their retirement home reminiscing.
The first lady recalled shopping at the grocery store and demonstrated with her hands,
The second old lady nodded, adding that onions used to be much bigger and cheaper also,
The third old lady remarked,
Seen in London