Saturday, July 30, 2011

Caring For Snakes.

This site is presently under construction and will have important information on caring for reptiles in your care. We don't own them, they belong to nature; however we have a responsibility to provide food and shelter for any reptile while in our care.

Caring For Snakes:

It is assumed for the sake of this document that people wishing to keep snakes have a basic knowledge or understanding as to the principals of safe handling practices prior to deciding to keep snakes, either as pets, or as part of a research project. Keeping live snakes has added responsibilities not only to the snakes but also for the security and well being of people living or visiting under the same roof. First and foremost the security of the snakes and their enclosure should be paramount.  The enclosure should be secure not only to stop snakes from escaping, but also to stop inadvertent or deliberate access. The natural inquisitive nature of children has the potential to lead to disaster if security is compromised. Enclosures should have a child-proof lock on any access. Any ventilation must inhibit the fingers of little people from trying to poke at whatever is inside. Ventilation is essential, however again it has to be secure enough as not to allow contact or escape.
Whenever there is a need to handle or work with live snakes, rule number one should apply. Pressure immobilisation bandages should be close and accessible. Children and pets should be either removed from the immediate area or under the control of a responsible adult. It’s good practice whenever working with live snakes to have someone reliable in the vicinity in case of an incident. Always have your equipment close at hand and ensure that there is no clutter that would hinder the retrieval of any would be escapee.
If the intent is to clean or make alterations to the enclosure, an empty rubbish bin with a secure lid becomes a handy addition to hold a snake short-term. Simply lift the snake from its enclosure, place the snake in the bin and secure the lid. For new or agitated snakes, a safety diaphragm fitted to the top of the bin will slow snakes that try to escape the instant you release them. A safety diaphragm is a calico lid with a small-elasticised opening that will hinder the escape. You will still need to place the lid over the diaphragm, and care should be taken later when taking off the lid that there are no snakes lying on top of the diaphragm.
Never take short cuts when working inside enclosures. Always remove snakes to a secure location before proceeding. Many a keeper has learned a lesson the hard way, at best spending a night in a local hospital under observation. Snakes fed in their enclosures get used to the lid being lifted as a sign that food is on the way and will become excited at the prospect of being fed. Being creatures of habit this can be misinterpreted by snakes when the intent is anything other than feeding.

When it comes to feeding some herpetologists prefer to remove snakes from their enclosure to feed them. This can have advantages where controlled feeding regimes are preferred and the snakes in question are relatively quiet. In situations like this, the snake is removed using appropriate equipment, and placed in a container or controlled environment for the duration of the feeding procedure. A hook attached to a pole is often used to lift the snake from its case to the feeding location. It is best done as quietly as possible so as not to agitate the snake. Once fed it should be gently returned to its regular enclosure.
Snakes fed in their normal living environment should have particular attention paid to the substrate to ensure that it is suitable, in case the snake swallows foreign material adhering to prey. Wood or sawdust is inappropriate, as it can perforate the gut and lead to major health problems even death. Fine river gravel will on the other hand pass through without causing harm. Another alternative is ground coconut shell that is digestible if swallowed. This material is available commercially from pet product suppliers.

How often to feed captive snakes.
Over feeding can have long-term implications for the health and longevity prospects of captive snakes. Less is best for the well-being of snakes. In captivity, movement and energy expenditure is minimised due to lack of required hunting for food. Over feeding can also result in the contents of the snake’s stomach being disgorged. An average snake of say a metre overall will usually only need two to three at most adult mouse sized prey once every two weeks. A good rule of thumb is to consider feeding once the snake has digested its food, evident by excrement in the enclosure. As a rule snakes will also become more active once there is a need to feed. Cruising around the enclosure continuously is usually a sign the snake is ready to be fed. 
A good practice is to only feed dead prey to snakes, this will avoid them becoming too excited when feeding, and also will avoid injuries to the snake from biting rodents capable of inflicting severe wounds. Any frozen prey should be thawed at room temperature prior to introduction. Any food not eaten within 5 hours of introduction should be discarded. 

Temperature is important when feeding, snakes will usually be reluctant to feed if the temperature is below 15 degrees. Ideally somewhere between 22–28 degrees is preferable. Temperatures above 34 degrees should be avoided, at these highs snakes are placed under stress; above 38 and there is a real possibility that conditions can prove fatal.
Snakes reliant on sunshine for heating should always have their enclosures vent out through the top so that there is no possibility of overheating. A glass case placed in the sun with a solid lid can turn into an oven within minutes. Either a heat pad or heat lamp can best apply artificial heating. Where lamps are used, it is essential that a protective cover be placed over the globe to avoid the snake from being burned on the hot surface.

Vitamin supplements.
The main source of essential vitamin D is from unfiltered sunlight. If the health of captive snakes is to be maintained then a fluorescent grow light will be required, these lights will ensure that vitamin D requirements are met. Deficiency in this essential vitamin is manifest in retained slough (skin shedding), as well as other health problems. Grow lights can be purchased from most pet shops or herpetology suppliers. The other essential addition, especially for juvenile reptiles is calcium. Calcium is a requirement for developing healthy bone growth. Usually a diet of whole food such as the complete animal, gut bones, fur and all will do fine; however additional calcium supplement every third or fourth feed will not go astray. Your pet supplier may well be able to suggest other supplements that will maintain the health and well-being of captive reptiles.

The welfare of captive snakes can be determined by good animal husbandry. Disease resulting from contaminated substrate can harbour a myriad of pathogens and harmful bacteria. If the intention is to keep snakes out of view, and not as a feature for display, then butcher’s paper is ideal as a substrate cover. Paper can be easily replaced with a minimum of fuss and although aesthetically not as appealing can none-the-less prove most beneficial. Excrement left unattended can have health implications and should be removed at the first opportunity. A long handled ladle can be used to scoop contaminates for removal. Where river gravel is used this can be dumped into a bucket of water under a tap which allows contaminates to float to the top and overflow out of the bucket. Once cleaned, the gravel can be tipped into a sieve, dried then be recycled back into the enclosure.
Dampness that causes mould is particularly hazardous and can usually be avoided by removing any contaminates immediately they appear, and also by ensuring good ventilation coupled with a dry environment. I guess mostly we can take a lesson from our own comfort requirements, clean, dry, warm, well fed and secure, pretty well sums it up.

Transporting Live Snakes.
As with all wildlife, there is a duty of care to ensure that animals, now your responsibility, are looked after and not placed under undue stress. Despite belief that snakes thrive in heat, the opposite is in fact true. Snakes need to thermo regulate by moving into shade when conditions dictate. When in a captive state, they are reliant on their custodian to monitor their environment so as not to adversely affect their well being. Never leave live snakes in bags out in direct sun light. They should be placed in a cool dry and secure place until they can be released.
Care should be taken to ensure that children and animals cannot make contact with the bagged snake. Ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place so that people are in no doubt as to the location and contents to prevent accidental injury to snake, people and pets that could be compromised.
Hoop bags should have a warning on them that ensures anyone seeing the bag knows its contents; however small children unable to read maybe at risk.
It is always a good idea that live snakes that are to be released be transported in the boot of the car. If you have to undertake a long journey to the relocation site, then ensure that the snake doesn’t overheat. If travelling alone, place the secured bag into a cardboard box or similar container and transport on the rear seat of the car. A polystyrene esky serves this purpose well, and insulates the animal into the bargain.

Choosing a Release Site.
Where possible, it is advisable to release any captive animals into a safe environment not too far from the capture site. Commonsense as to where to release, requires thoughtful approach ensuring the snake will not place others at risk. Most Herpetology groups will know of good locations where these animals may well be out of harms way without causing further danger. Always make sure if the release site is on private property that you have permission from the landholder before releasing the snake. As would be expected, not everyone likes them on their property; however there are people with strong ecology based principals who have reconciled their differences with snakes and accept them as part of a balanced ecology. If there is any doubt about a suitable release site, contact your local Parks & Wildlife Authority and seek advice. 

There is always the option of delivering them to your local Museum, where trained personnel will be able to deal with the problem.