Meet Kelly O’Shea – a member of a local group of snake handlers responsible for the emergency handling, removal, catching, capture and control of snakes.
How did you come to live in Armidale?
Originally from Nowra on the South Coast of NSW, I moved to Armidale in 2004 to start my university degree, a Bachelor of Science (Zoology).
What prompted you to learn to become a snake catcher?
I had joined the volunteers of the Northern Tablelands Wildlife Carers (NTWC) when I first moved to Armidale. It was in the spring NTWC newsletter that my friend Sam and I saw the advertisement for a snake rescue training course in Singleton that November.
Both of us were passionate about snakes, and we thought that it would be fun and practical as NTWC members to learn how to handle them and relocate them when they were found in places where they were not wanted.
The course went for two days and covered how to safely pick up and catch snakes, as well as how to handle the different types of snakes. The course also covered basic first aid, and the use of bandages in the case of a snake bite. Later the next year, another friend of ours, Sasha, also did the course – and our team of two became a team of three.
Who are the other snake catchers?
In the beginning, there were only the three of us: Sasha Mahboub, Sam Reichenvater and myself, Kelly O’Shea. Sam was an international student from Zimbabwe studying Science (Zoology) along with me, and Sasha, from Sydney, was studying Law and Commerce.
First impressions at a snake call we’re always interesting. When three young girls turn up to remove the brown snake from the living room, it has people generally doing a double take.
In the last year we have recruited two more snake handlers – Richard Biffin, who moved from Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, and Nat Crook, who is doing her Honours in Zoology. Both have experience with handling snakes and have been going to snake calls for over a year.
Any memorable snake catching moments?
There have been several memorable moments over the years. But I think the overall prize for memorable moments goes to the Red Belly Black Snake, for its ability to be found in the most unlikeliest of places.
One of our most memorable snake captures occurred one hot Friday afternoon. We (Sasha, Sam and I) had received a call that a snake had been spotted at the Kmart underground car park. We arrived at the scene, only to find the car park full of cars and police surrounding a rather sedate white car.
We were informed that the snake had slowly made its way through the car park and under this particular car. The snake had not since been seen leaving the vehicle. We arrived with a police escort and proceeded with extreme caution to the vehicle. We thoroughly searched the vehicle, to find our long red-bellied friend coiled behind the hubcap of the wheel.
Round about that same time, the owner of the car surfaced. Unimpressed, the owner and his hefty walking stick demanded the release of his car, regardless of this extra passenger. Thank goodness for police! (And we thought snakes were dangerous!)
An hour later we had finally dislodged the snake from the wheel, only for it to slither under the car – where we were unable to reach the escapee, who was quite content to remain where it was.
After a little bit of patience, snake in bag, the surly owner departed, and we found ourselves in the back of a paddy wagon heading for a secluded area to release our hard won friend.
Another encounter with a Red Belly led us into the kitchen of a house to stand in front of an oven. The owners of the house had seen the snake come in the back door and make its way under the oven and after trying to cook it out, rang the police, who in turn rang us to catch the snake.
Standing in front of the oven wasn’t getting the job done, but after moving the oven out from the wall, checking under the oven and the entire kitchen, we couldn’t find the snake. The only possible answer was that the snake had somehow gotten itself inside the oven and was now stuck.
The only course of action was to open the back of the oven, and turn the power off to the house, so poking inside the oven didn’t get me electrocuted! After getting a confirmation from the owner that destroying the oven to get a snake was OK, we began the slow process of pulling the insulation out of the side of the oven. Soon enough we could see the snake and we pulled it out and bagged it, ready for release, but that oven was never the same.
As summer is nearing, what should one do if bitten by a snake?
Before I tell you what one should do if bitten, I think more importantly I should talk about how not to get bitten in the first place. As the daily temperature starts to rise, snakes are becoming more active and leaving their winter resting places.
The most common places for snakes to hide are woodpiles, compost heaps and underneath old junk metal (i.e. tin sheeting). So when getting to the bottom of the woodpile or compost heap, be careful and always wear gloves, long pants and covered shoes.
To avoid getting snakes in or around your home altogether, remove junk from the yard, keep the grass short and have your wood piles raised off the ground.
Snakes don’t like to be exposed and will stay out of yards that have few hiding places. Most of the time when a snake is in the yard, it is only passing through. Don’t approach it, and it will generally move along. Ninety per cent of snake bites occur when someone is trying to kill a snake or it has been stepped on; don’t attack it, and it won’t bite you.
Saying that, sometimes accidents happen. If you are ever bitten by a snake, the best thing to do is to stay calm and wrap a compress bandage tightly and securely around the whole of the limb that was bitten. Using the arm as an example, start at the bite site and then work to the top of the arm and then back down to the fingertips. Keep the limb immobile and held below the heart.
Ring an ambulance and get to the hospital as soon as possible. You don’t need to catch the snake or know what type it is; the hospital will check for venom on the bite site and find out that way which snake type it is.
What other services are provided by the Northern Tablelands Wildlife Carers?
The Northern Tablelands Wildlife Carers are a non-profit volunteer organisation. They provide the rescue, rehabilitation and release of sick or injured native wildlife. As well as rescue, the NTWC also works with landholders in re-vegetation, research and the finding of permanent release sites for native animals.
How can interested readers contribute to Northern Tablelands Wildlife Carers?
New members and volunteers are always welcome.You do not need to be able to care for the animals yourself; instead, you may be able to contribute in other ways, such as fundraising. If not, donations go a long way to helping the native animals that are in our care.
If you find a native animal that is in need of rescue or care, please call our number 1800 008 290 (free call sponsored by Telstra). Or, write to NTWC PO Box 550 Armidale 2350 or visit www.ntwc.org.au
Thank you Kelly.