Saturday, October 25, 2008

Poisonous snakes make bad pets!

That shouldn't need saying, of course . . . but some people seem to assume that prudence and caution don't apply to them. A Canadian snake enthusiast found out the hard way that this isn't so.

Plastic surgery and permanent physical damage may await a Winnipeg man bitten in the face Sunday by a type of venomous snake whose strike can kill a person within minutes.

Authorities were mum on the details behind the bite from the West African gaboon viper and the extent of the man's injuries, but he was upgraded to stable condition after a period where his life was in peril.

Antivenin flown in from Toronto is credited with saving the 31-year-old man's life. It's not known how much venom entered his body.

Winnipeg police spokeswoman Const. Jacqueline Chaput said investigators aren't certain where the bite occurred but it may have been at a location 90 minutes outside the city.

Chaput said the viper has not been found but it may be in someone's possession. She said there's no need for people to be worried about a poisonous snake on the loose.

Chaput said the man, described as a snake enthusiast, was driven to St. Boniface General Hospital by a friend and was conscious and talking when he arrived shortly after 7 p.m. He told staff what happened and what sort of treatment was required.

His condition later deteriorated. He fell unconscious and was in critical condition in the intensive care unit.

Due to his life-threatening state, police were unable to interview him. It is illegal to own or possess any venomous reptiles in Winnipeg.

Dr. Pierre Plourde of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said the venom destroys tissue, sometimes requiring amputation or plastic surgery. It also prevents clotting, causes swelling and shock and may damage the heart.

He said the viper can release up to nine millilitres of venom in one strike, but only six-one-hundreths is required to cause death.

"You're talking about less than a drop, even a minute amount," Plourde said.

What puzzles me is how the victim managed to get bitten on his face. I know Gaboon vipers from my many years in Africa. They're fairly sluggish snakes, not prone to attack unless provoked: and they don't have a long strike range. The victim would have had to put his face fairly close to the snake to be bitten there - and no-one in his right mind would put his face close to any member of the viper family!

I'm afraid he's likely to be disfigured for life. Gaboon vipers and other snakes of the species have a poison causing necrosis, which eats away the flesh in the vicinity of the bite. There's a picture available of an extreme example, which went untreated for a couple of weeks.

WARNING: This is a truly horrifying picture.
You should NOT view it if you're at all squeamish!

If that warning doesn't put you off, then click here to view it. The only recourse for that victim would be amputation of the limb. Of course, the Canadian victim was treated fairly quickly: but at least some of his face tissue is virtually certain to necrotize like that. He'll probably be left with permanent scars, even after plastic surgery.

To make matters worse, the snake's gone missing. Police are looking for it, and suspect another snake fancier is hiding it from them.

Please, folks: if any of you are snake-fanciers, don't play around with vipers or other poisonous serpents! The risks are very real. In a 'citified' environment, too many collectors forget that in nature, these creatures are poisonous for a reason - and you or your loved ones or friends may find yourselves on the receiving end without any warning.



phlegmfatale said...

While I admit that is an singularly horrifying photograph, I confess that it is not sufficient to put me off of bleus or any other stinky European cheeses. Call me jaded. Call me a bitch. I contend I have good taste...

Anonymous said...

What is the award two steps higher than "doofus"?

Anonymous said...

Boy, that makes my brown recluse bite look dwnright... well, like a mosquito bite. Holy smokes,... um... well, what do you say to that? Man...

OK, enough hemming and hawing. Ouch.

Anonymous said...

Ok.. first off why would you wait a couple WEEKS after getting bitten by a gaboon?! Also, why isn't this person dead?