Snake-handler shortage starting to bite in north Queensland | Environment

A shortage of volunteer snake-handlers is starting to bite in north Queensland, where an end-of-breeding-season influx of hungry reptiles into homes is driving an increase in the number of calls for help.

The need for sustenance by female snakes that have shed weight while waiting for their eggs to hatch has driven them indoors in search of food, including rats.

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In Townsville, one of the few places where residents can call on a group of volunteers to remove the reptiles, snake-handlers scrambling to meet off-the-scale demand have put out a call for more people to join their ranks.

Snake catcher Greg Calvert told the ABC the volunteers were being forced to prioritise their responses to the flood of calls for help.

“At the moment, we’re trying to focus our attention on those problem snakes — the venomous ones and the ones that get into people’s houses,” he said.

Snakes in the region range from the mostly harmless python to highly venomous varieties such as the northern death adder, the eastern and western brown snakes and the coastal taipan.

Jackie Hasling, a ranger from the Hands On Wildlife group that trains volunteers to “help Townsville and help the snakes out of their goodness of their heart”, said the alternative was to pay commercial snake catchers.

“There are businesses that go and relocate snakes and I think the initial call out fee is between $80 and $140,” she told the ABC.

“If they catch the snake and have to relocate it they charge an additional fee.”

Snake catchers in Queensland are licensed by the Department of the Environment, Land and Water, with permits requiring completion of a snake handling course, knowledge of local snakes and a first aid certificate.

Calvert urged residents to steer clear of snakes that showed up, but also to bear in mind pythons were “a normal part of the Townsville suburbs”.

The only proviso was “just to keep their dogs and children away from them” if they were found sunning themselves in the backyard.

Hasling said people studying reptiles at university or who already kept snakes as pets could make ideal handlers.

“That helps especially as you don’t want to be too nervous when you’re learning how to handle snakes, so you want to be quite comfortable to take on that challenge,” she said.