“Always carry a flask of whisky in case of snakebite…and furthermore, always carry a snake” (W.C.Fields)

Is it any surprise that many people are scared of snakes?   Since the story of Adam and Eve, snakes have rarely been portrayed in a good light. Even today, watching some of the more over dramatic survival/nature programs (you know the ones, where the presenter dances and sidesteps around a snake as if it is about to explode) is enough to convince those who don’t know better that snakes are lethally aggressive creatures bent on nothing more than attacking as many humans as they possibly can.

The problem is that fear makes humans do stupid things: most of the locals I come across here will automatically kill a snake if they see one.  Why?  Because they’re scared of snakes, and they’re scared of snakes because they’ve been told scare stories since childhood.  One popular belief is that if you don’t kill a snake that comes into your garden then it will ‘mark you for death’ and revisit vindictively until it finally gets the chance to strike you down…

Since I have lived in Malaysia I have had countless encounters with ‘dangerous’ snakes and never felt in the least bit threatened by them.  That is not to say that I am not careful around snakes, I am, but I no longer take the horror stories I hear about snakes at face value – most are wildly exaggerated and many are quite simply untrue.

The risk from snakes is relatively low compared to that from other dangers in the jungle.  In the last six years I’ve never come across anyone who has even been bitten by a snake and yet I know personally of two people who died of dengue (transmitted by mosquitos) and two who died after being stung by bees.  This year a guide here in Malaysia was killed by a falling branch in the jungle – and yet, when I go camping I often notice how few people check for widow-makers (dead branches) above where they pitch their hammocks, but these same people will sit around the camp fire scaring themselves silly with stories of lethal snake attacks.  In short, risk is relative, but we often worry most about low risk situations that have ‘nightmare’ outcomes whilst happily accepting high risk situations (e.g. driving) that we have come to accept as part of everyday life.

Knowledge is the key to managing fear  and allows you to rationally look at risk and weigh it up.  Similarly knowledge of what to do in the event of that ‘nightmare scenario’ happening not only stops it being a ‘nightmare’ scenario (psychologically transforming it into a calculated risk instead) but may even save your life.

It is the same with survival techniques – you may never need them (in fact you probably won’t) but it’s better to know them and not need them, than need them and not know them.

In this video I look at pythons from the perspective of a jungle trekker.  In the six years I’ve been pottering around in the jungle I have only come across three, medium sized (10 – 15 feet) pythons in the wild  – one was lounging around on a road (which I encouraged him to cross to safety using a long stick), one escaped up a tree when it saw me coming and the other came out to check out my dogs but fled when I got near, disappearing into the undergrowth.

I am not a herpetologist, nor am I any sort of wildlife expert, so the information I have has been gleaned mainly from conversations with snake handlers.  I have never battled with a python (or even been bitten by one) so I don’t doubt that there are better informed people than me to discuss this subject.   The problem I found, however, was that getting even some basic information on ‘what to do in the event of a problem with a python’ was not easy – searching on the internet unearthed some odd bits of good advice, a lot of bad advice and some advice that was dangerously wrong…

My favourite piece of ‘rubbish’ advice was told to me in all seriousness by a local here in Malaysia some years back.  He described an epic battle he fought with a large python that had attacked him as he waded across a river.  Taking out his parang, he wedged it between his chest and the constricting coils tightening around him, with the sharp edge pointed outwards.  As the snake constricted harder it neatly sliced itself in two on the blade of his parang…

…and if you believe that story, you’ll believe anything.