The whole world celebrated on July 16, 2022, world snake day. An opportunity for nature lovers to make the masses even more aware of everything that is still misunderstood about this animal, which is the victim of negative beliefs and prejudices. Through an interview, Baptist Hook, responsible for environmental awareness and education on organization for sustainable development and biodiversity (ODDB) provides us with the necessary information about these reptiles.
Why dedicate a day to snakes?
It is important to talk about snakes and dedicate a special day to them. Above all, it is an opportunity to talk about these very little-known animals, sometimes perceived as strange and often perceived as dangerous. The biggest threat to these animals, besides the destruction of their habitats, is their systematic execution when they are in our immediate environment.
What are the categories of snakes and their life expectancy?
Snakes are categorized into families. The most dangerous snakes in the world are classified in special families. One thinks, for example, of the elapids (the group that has the most poisonous snakes in the world) or the viperidae (also very well known). The lifespan of a pet snake varies by breed, but the average lifespan is 15 to 20 years. In nature, it mainly depends on the species and its environment. Not all snakes are poisonous. It is even much smaller than half of the world’s snakes. The African countries with the most are Zimbabwe and South Africa. In all the cases in the forests we studied, we identified 29 species of snakes, 6 of which have a potentially fatal bite for humans. Other snakes have venoms that can cause complications but never or almost never cause death.
Which are poisonous and which are not?
This year at ODDB we created a document inspired by documents from a specialized South African association. This is a poster of the 6 poisonous and potentially deadly snakes of Benin. With the procedure to be followed in case of bite. The small movements that can save our lives, the things not to do and the procedure to follow in case of a bite. You can find this poster for free on ODDB’s Facebook page.
How important are snakes to biodiversity?
First of all, the snake, especially in the forest ecosystems of southern Benin, is an important link in the food chain and contributes to the balance of the ecosystem. Snakes feed most often on small mammals, lizards, birds, eggs and occasionally other snakes. They therefore regulate rodent populations (rats, mice) and bird populations, which in certain cases can negatively affect our crops and agriculture in general. In addition, snakes are often the source of important discoveries for medicine. Mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis) venom is neurotoxic. It is being studied as a more effective pain reliever without drawbacks. The venom of the coral snake (micrurus) is neurotoxic and studied to treat certain diseases of the nervous system such as epilepsy, schizophrenia or chronic pain.
The venom of the dark pygmy rattlesnake (sistrurus miliarius barbouri) contains eptifibatide, which is a peptide designed to mimic the small active part of this snake protein. It is used as an anticoagulant to prevent cardiovascular problems such as heart attacks, acute coronary syndromes or angina pectoris by preventing platelets from aggregating. It is important not to kill the snakes, because some are completely harmless, neither aggressive nor poisonous.
What are the main dangers that threaten snakes?
The main threats to snake populations around the world are deforestation, habitat fragmentation and habitat destruction in general, climate change. The systematic execution of snakes is also a major problem worldwide. And it is the one that each individual can act on. In Benin, other problems have been added such as the consumption of certain species (powdered). In addition, false information is circulating in Benin about certain groups of snakes, such as acttractaspis.
Can you really tame a snake?
You can have a pet snake or a tame snake yes. You have to go to a pet store or specialty stores to buy one. You can find advice from specialists in these stores. On the contrary, I strongly advise against taking a snake into the wild to make it your pet. Wild animals are not necessarily adapted to life in a terrarium. Also, by taking directly from the ecosystem, you disturb its balance.
How do you feed a snake?
In the wild, snakes are capable of fasting for very long periods of time. Sometimes several months. Most adult house snakes eat 1-2 times a week. Snakes under 4 months feed on mouse fetuses. Those over 2 years old feed mainly on rodents.
What advice do you have to give?
If you find a snake, be careful and keep your distance. Do not approach or touch it. The snake bites when it feels threatened. They should not be killed because they are useful for the food chain and for medicine. They are sometimes harmless.