Education as a means to combat snakebite
For many years, much of the focus in tackling the snakebite crisis has been on snakebite management, including developing antivenoms and understanding the properties of venom. However, it is becoming apparent that in order to prevent snakebite incidences, the focus needs to shift to better understanding and to gather high quality information on distribution, abundance, behaviour, and habitat preferences of venomous snakes. This is particularly important in regions most affected by snakebite such as Africa. In line with this, education about snakes and snakebite, based on the scientific understanding of the venomous snakes in a region, is equally important.
As a scientist and conservationist with a passion for snakes, my goal has been to develop a project that focuses on research, education and conservation of snakes that will lead to reduced snakebite incidences, as well as a reduction in snake killings. The focus area of this project will be Hoedspruit, South Africa, an area where a diversity of venomous snakes occur including Puff Adder and Mozambique Spitting Cobra, two of the most common snakes featured in snakebite incidences. In partnership with the Hoedspruit Reptile Centre in South Africa and representing Save The Snakes as the Africa Program Manager, we have developed several projects that focus on research on venomous snakes in the area, educating local communities and schools, providing training to handle venomous snakes and educating healthcare workers about snakebite management. We will also be collecting data on people’s experiences with snakebite, areas where snakes are commonly encountered and further understand the relationship people have with snakes in the area.
Research on both venomous and non-venomous snakes in the area will allow us to create snake identification posters and other educational material for snakes that are encountered in the area. Our research will also allow us to educate communities about the role of these venomous snakes and prevention measures they can take to avoid getting bitten by certain snakes. The research will also allow us to create better science-based educational material for communities in the region. By training key individuals from various communities, we hope to empower them to be able to translate the knowledge gained from us and share it within their communities and act as snake ambassadors in their communities. And by teaching individuals how to handle snakes and how to educate their local community about snakes, we also hope to create opportunities for other nature-based solutions.
I hope through this project I will be able to gain a much better understanding on the ecology and behaviour of snakes in the area as well as the relationship between humans and snakes. I also hope this project will be a great example of what to do in other regions where snakebite is a problem and that this strategy to prevent snakebite will assist in significantly reducing the number of snakebites and snakebite related deaths. Better knowledge of snake ecology will also improve our efforts in the allocation of resources in specific regions, create better prevention measures and work collaboratively to create better treatment for snakebites.
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Save The Snakes
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This blog was written as part of the Women Champions of Snakebite campaign, supported by the Lillian Lincoln Foundation, Health Action International and Global Snakebite Initiative.
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