13 October 2022

Psssst: why you don't have to be scared of snakes - they're more frightened of you

| Sally Hopman
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eastern brown snake

One of the five eastern brown snakes Skott Williamson was called out to remove in a Yass street. Photo: Skott Williamson.

If you were in any doubt that we’re smack bang in the middle of snake mating season, just walk a day in Skott Williamson’s boots.

Last week, Skott, from Yass, was called out to remove three of the deadliest snakes there are, eastern browns, from the same Yass street. He’d not long caught the snakes and taken them away to a safe site, away from humans, when he received another call – from the same location. There was another. But wait, there’s more. The following day, yet another snake, same place. Five snakes in not as many days adjacent to a vacant block in the town.

“This is a personal record for me in Yass,” Skott said. “My all-time record was nine eastern browns and a large diamond python from a water-heater room in a block of units many years ago.”

While most of the population would head for the hills after such a find, Skott thrives on it. The volunteer snake catcher with Wildcare has been passionate about the reptiles since he was six and caught his first snake, a red-bellied black.

He thought spiders would be his passion, after being bitten by a redback at age three, but once he got up close and personal with his first eastern brown, that was it.


Snake catcher Skott Williamson. He also plays in a band called Snake Witch. Photo: Supplied.

Since then, he said, his affinity for such reptiles had only grown.

Skott moved to Yass with his wife in 2019, from Canberra.

“We had lived all over Australia and were looking to settle in a rural area. We saw Yass and fell in love with the place. It’s so pretty here, it’s like living in a postcard.”

While admitting finding, catching and relocating five snakes from the one site is unusual, it’s not rare.

“Snakes start moving about in late August after hibernation but they don’t start their mating season till about now. One of them was a big healthy female and the others probably came in because they could smell the pheromones she put out. Snakes have an acute sense of smell and taste.”

Skott, who works in a Yass cafe when he’s not removing snakes from the suburbs – and plays in a rock band aptly named Snake Witch – said after removing the first three snakes, one of his cafe customers told him there was another on the same site.

“They told me they’d seen a fourth snake there. I’ve got a great boss at the cafe so I took off to see the snake. This one was a more dangerous capture and release because the snake had wire netting caught around its neck and face. So I had to hold it in my hands to free it.

“I tell you, though, I’d much rather mess around with a brown snake than a possum. At least with a brown snake, you know they have distinctive behaviour and you can read their body language. And at least they’re predictable.”

Skott said snakes, particularly the dangerous kinds like eastern browns and red-bellied blacks, were “misunderstood”.

“There are all these myths and superstitions about them,” he said. “Like how they chase humans. That’s wrong, they won’t chase you. They’re more afraid of humans than we are of them. We’re not on their menu.

“If you a see a snake close by, just stand still, it will go away from you. But if there’s one near you and you bolt, it will think there is something it should be getting away from and will take off too.

“The worst thing you can do is confront a snake and corner it. That’s when people get bitten.”

An experienced, trained snake catcher for more than 40 years, has he ever been bitten? Yes, he said, but it was his fault, not the snake’s.

“Unfortunately I have been bitten but it’s not a badge of honour. It’s more a reminder of human error.”

The first time was when he was only a youngster and was bitten by a tiger snake. The bite nearly took his life – and he needed more than four months to recover. The other was at Braidwood where he was bitten by a copperhead but didn’t know until he arrived home.

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“I knew the snake was there and was trying to get it out of this swampy goo. By the time I got home I was feeling a bit woozy, then I saw the bite mark on the back of my calf muscle. I just drank lots of water to make sure my kidneys were still functioning – I was OK, just a slight headache.

“This is my calling, so these things happen. I also got bitten on the nose by a red-bellied black, but it was only a dry bite.”

As the weather warms up and more snakes are about, Skott called on people to give them the respect they deserve. Shooting them, he said, was not the answer – and also illegal.

“The most important thing to do if you are bitten by a snake is to stay calm,” he said. “Try not to move, apply a pressure bandage and call 000.”

If you find a snake too close for comfort at home, call Wildcare on 02 62299 1966 or Skott on 0413 433 200.

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