Slithering to surburbia

SNAKE SEASON: A common and deadly eastern brown snake slithers across the lawn. Picture: Brook Mitchell .
SNAKE SEASON: A common and deadly eastern brown snake slithers across the lawn. Picture: Brook Mitchell .

WHAT’S striking about the start of this Hunter snake season, for Geoff de Looze, is the suburban blandness of where the snakes are appearing.

In an October so frantic with snakes it feels like the height of summer, the Native and Feral Pest Management catcher has seen eastern browns cutting through a Cessnock school, a brown hugging the pavers in a Mayfield backyard, and several nasty bites on dogs.

Eastern brown snakes and red-bellied black snakes account for most of the work of Mr de Looze, who has been summoned to dark, confined spaces. 

A recent expedition beneath a house to catch an eastern brown was the stuff of an ophidiophobe’s nightmares. 

But most of his scaly discoveries could be mapped out “in loops” of houses that back onto the bush, in places like Raymond Terrace, Maitland, Thornton, Jewells and Mayfield West.

“This is something you get in the middle of summer; we never see this many this early,” Mr de Looze said. “Our suburban back gardens have everything [snakes] need, unfortunately. I’ve been to several [call-outs] where the dog hasn’t made it.”

Many of the Hunter’s snake-bitten dogs are rushed to the Animal Referral and Emergency Centre, where the Maitland clinic is in the thick of its debut snake season.

Managing director David Tabrett said the new clinic’s proximity to the central Hunter – where brown snakes collide with suburbia – means he has seen more canine bite victims than ever.

Last weekend a Maitland family brought in a dog weak from snake venom. When they got home their other dog had collapsed.

“So they had both dogs in hospital at once. Both of them had been bitten by an eastern brown snake,” Dr Tabrett said. “Luckily, they’re both recovering.”

Of the two-species hydra that dominates Hunter snakebites, eastern brown venom has worse side-effects in dogs than that of red-bellies.

They include paralysis, bleeding from the eyes and mouth and blood in the urine and kidney failure.