Aware of snakes – yes,
Cautious of snakes – yes,
Afraid – hell no!
There is an incredible misnomer that Australian snakes are really dangerous.
It is true, we have the dubious honour of having the two most venomous snakes in the World, the Eastern Brown and the Inland Taipan, as well as a whole host of the top 20 most venomous snakes.
A full bite from the Inland Taipan has enough toxicity to kill 100 adult men. A stupid amount of poison for one snake to have!
Yes, our snakes are incredibly venomous, but let’s not confuse venomous with dangerous. Most Australian snakes, with a few notable exceptions, are not dangerous at all.
Australia is teeming with snakes. There are so many snakes in Australia, that if our snakes were actually aggressive, then we would have fatalities every day. The truth is our snakes are very shy, and bites are generally defensive.
Let’s check out the statistics to prove the point.
Firstly, if you are going to worry about being bitten by snakes, worry when you are in India, not Australia. 46,000 people die every year in India from snake bites. That is 4 people for every 100,000! This is mainly down to their very aggressive Cobras.
Yet Australia on average has 2 fatalities each year which is just 0.007 out of every 100,000 people. We have approximately 550 people attend hospital due to snake bite in Australia, resulting in just 2 fatalities.
2 out of 550 is a mortality rate of 0.36%. That is to say that each year 0.36% of people bitten by a snake, die from the snake bite. So the chances of being bitten in the first place are really small, and then the chance of dying is infinitesimal.
When a fatality occurs, it is a great shock (and it sells a lot of newspapers!), but let’s put those numbers in context for a minute.
1,200 people died in 2017 from road accidents, yet we still drive cars.
Every year over 100,000 people are attacked by dogs, with over 13,000 hospitalisations, yet we still have dogs, and what’s more, we allow them in our homes. (fatalities statistics caused by dogs are blurry, but it looks like around 2-3 per year).
7-8 people die per year from either falling from, or being kicked by horses, yet we are a nation of horse lovers.
More people in Australia were killed by cows in the last 10 years, than by snakes, and that is not including those who died in traffic accidents caused by cows.
And it is not hikers that are die from snakes. Of the snake bites that do occur in Austalia, 54% of snake bite fatalities in the last 20 years have occurred in people’s homes, not out in the bush.
Why our snakes won’t kill you when hiking
Firstly, you are not going to pick one up! Overwhelmingly the people who die from snake bites are middle aged men, who are either doing something stupid or they are working in remote areas, and they are just incredibly unlucky.
Secondly, as the statistics above demonstrate, only 0.36% of people bitten die. The reason is, most bites from Australian snakes are “dry” as no venom is injected. In fact from the 550 people who report to hospital each year due to snake bite, only about 40 are treated with anti-venom because the bites are dry.
Thirdly, our snakes generally have very small teeth that are way up in the back of their jaws. They evolved to kill mice and small mammals, not humans. For an Australian snake to kill you, they need to get a really good purchase on you, which is pretty hard to do, unless you are either unlucky, or doing something you shouldn’t.
Alert, cautious but not alarmed
Don’t get me wrong. If you are out hiking in Australia, you need to be wary of snakes. But the statistics prove that being fearful of them is irrational.
With a few very simple precautions, the chances of being bitten are practically zero.
Precaution One: October to January is snake bite season. Be extra cautious in these months by wearing light weight long pants. With teeth less than 4mm long, most Australian snakes couldn’t penetrate a sock let alone a gaiter.
Precaution Two: Stay on hiking paths and never try to pick up a snake that is on the path. If you see a snake, make lots of noise and tap the ground. In all my years of hiking, I’ve never had a snake on the path that wouldn’t move. In fact most of the time, the snake is long gone before we even get close.
So if you have been avoiding walking out in the bush due to a fear of snakes, it is time to ditch the fear and get out there. Of course, be careful, especially from October to January, but don’t let an irrational fear prevent you from enjoying the wonderful Australian outdoors.
Team Inspiration Outdoors