When it comes to choosing snake handling equipment, there are a few important factors that go into making an educated decision.
If you’re living or working in an area where there are venomous snakes and you want to purchase equipment, consider doing a snake awareness and handling course. We present courses throughout Africa, and we teach the correct use of snake handling equipment. This ensures both the handler’s safety, as well as that of the snake. There should be no compromise when it comes to safety.
If you are looking at buying snake tongs, what length are you comfortable with? In other words, what distance from a large venomous snake would you be comfortable with? Most people jokingly tell us that 20 m would work, but this is an important question. We highly recommend a 1.5 m snake tong for anyone who is inexperienced in removing snakes. You can handle anything from a 30 cm Mozambique Spitting Cobra to a 2.5 m Snouted Cobra with a 1.5 m tong. They are short enough (compared to the 2 m option) to still do removals in confined spaces like houses and workshops and fit comfortably in a small car. They are also long enough to give you some peace of mind when they make contact with a snake, whose identity and length may be unknown.
Experienced snake removers and snake parks generally make use of the 1 m tongs – mainly because they work in the close confines of snake tanks and these tongs work well for that. They also often need to neck snakes in snake parks and the longer tongs are then awkward.
2 m tongs are great for worksites and game lodges, where they may need the extra length to remove snakes from trees, thatch roofs or from under beds.
What to look out for:
Quality – make sure you’re buying a decent set of tongs. There are a lot of cheap Chinese imports available from various places and these can be more of a hazard than a help.
Make sure the trigger section closes completely and doesn’t jam. Purchase a snake tong with at least a 3 cm lip on the jaw section – this makes a huge difference when doing removals, as you don’t pinch the snake and it makes working with larger-bodied snakes much easier than working with tongs with a short lip.
Avoid heavy tongs, and tongs with metal rods underneath them – the snakes just wrap their tails around this. Some of the cheap imports also have serrated jaws – these hurt snakes and should never be used. Quality snake tongs should come with a warranty.
Snake tongs are an investment and if well looked after; should last many years. Care for your tongs and do not drop them onto concrete floors from trees or roofs.
(In the end, you could spend a bit more on quality tongs or half your life-savings in the ICU after a bite).
Snake hooks are pretty straight forward and work really well on Puff Adders – most other snakes can be removed using snake tongs. Make sure the “U” of the hook will be big enough for a decent sized snake to be lifted comfortably. The “V” hooks generally don’t work well for Puff Adders. Experienced snake handlers use hooks to ‘hook and tail’ a snake, and in that scenario any hook will work. Some handlers even use tongs for this.
We make extensive use of snake tubes, both on our courses and for removals. They work well to contain and safely transport venomous snakes. Snakes generally see the darkness of the tube as an escape hole and are easily guided into the tube. When buying a snake tube, make sure it is clearly marked as a snake tube and has ventilation holes in the lid (usually covered by foam for spitting snakes) and the lid should have a handle. Holes down the sides of the tube are not advisable as they let light into the tube.
We also make extensive use of snake buckets. We prefer transparent buckets so you can see what the snake is doing. Crumpled newspaper can be put in the bottom of the bucket for the snake to hide under. Avoid square or rectangular tubs. As soon as you put a snake in one of these, it finds a corner and goes up and comes straight out. When buying a snake bucket, make sure it’s clearly marked with a “venomous snake” sticker, has a central grip on the lid (to avoid bites to the fingers), has clip-closed handles and has ventilation holes. The 70 litre are preferred as you can fit almost any size snake in them.
Unless you’re very experienced, avoid snake bags. Snakes are capable of biting through bags and we have seen far too many incidences of this to recommend the use of bags, except by those with experience.
Eye protection is vital for removals in areas where spitting snakes are known to occur. Venom in the eyes is extremely painful and not worth the risk. If you want to make use of goggles (or spoggles as they are sometimes called) make sure you purchase ones that seal around the eye area and do not mist up. When snakes spit, they aim for the face and with a small bit of a sweat, the venom that lands on the forehead may run down into the eyes.
The other option is a full face mask – these work well as they protect the whole face.
There are a number of snake gaiters on the market, from entry level budget ones to high end lightweight gaiters. Snake gaiters offer leg protection against snakebite, and the use of these is advisable, as over 80% of snakebites are below the knee. Ideally you want to make sure they are comfortable, and if it is possible, try them on. Those that are quick to put on are great for removal purposes, as one is usually in a hurry. Make sure they’ve been tested by a reputable company and provide protection against snakebite as most gaiters sold in outdoor and hunting stores are only good to keep grass seeds and Blackjacks off – snake fangs easily go through them.
Leather gloves are not recommended for venomous snake removals. They are good for working with snakes like pythons and large mole snakes that can inflict nasty bites. If you want to use gloves for venomous snakes, then consider the Hexarmour Heavy Duty Snake Resistant Gloves. (Hercules 3180 R8E). These were designed by the medical industry for the removal of used needles and are used universally for working with venomous snakes.
On our all courses we teach delegates the correct and safest methods of using snake handling equipment. For those who cannot attend our courses, read our article on how to use snake handling equipment here.
Check out our video on our range of JM Snake Tongs:
Johan Marais is the author of various books on reptiles including the best-seller A Complete Guide to Snakes of Southern Africa. He is a popular public speaker and offers a variety of courses including Snake Awareness, Scorpion Awareness and Venomous Snake Handling. Johan is accredited by the International Society of Zoological Sciences (ISZS) and is a FGASA (Field Guides Association of Southern Africa) and SASTM (South African Society of Travel Medicine)-approved service provider. His courses are also accredited by the HPCSA (Health Professions Council of South Africa). Johan is a qualified instructor for the Emergency Care & Safety Institute in Oxygen Administration and Wilderness First Aid and a qualified Basic Life Support instructor.