Johan Marais is the author of various books on reptiles including the best-seller A Complete Guide to Snakes of Southern Africa. He is a popular public speaker and offers a variety of courses including Snake AwarenessScorpion Awareness and Venomous Snake Handling. Johan is accredited by the International Society of Zoological Sciences (ISZS) and is a Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA), NOSA and Travel Doctor-approved service provider. His courses are also accredited by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA). Johan is a qualified instructor for the Emergency Care & Safety Institute, in Oxygen Administration and Wilderness First Aid.
Johan Marais
African Snakebite Institute | +27 82 494 2039
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ASI Newsletter - July 2016

Snakebite Emergency Protocols

I am writing this newsletter while in Zambia for some snake awareness and venomous snake handling courses and one of the first things that I do is to check the existing snakebite emergency protocols. In this case everything is well in place as I had established protocols a year back during my previous visit but management is busy with a revision and updated protocols will be issued shortly.

Such protocols are essential for corporates and fall under the Mining Act or the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Failing to comply with the laws could have dire consequences and result in expensive litigation. This also applies to game lodges and snake keepers.

In a recent conversation with a snakebite victim it was apparent that the lodge where he was staying and got bitten did not have any snakebite protocol, or a medical emergency protocol for that matter.  

So what is required in such a protocol? It is not that complicated and the following steps need to be properly documented and displayed where it is accessible and easily found when needed:
  • Firstly an immediate line of action – who is notified in the event of a snakebite.
  • Access to the required emergency numbers. These numbers may include that of the nearest hospital with a trauma unit, private ambulance services (ER24 - 084124 or Netcare 082911) and the Tygerberg Poison Centre Emergency Number – 0861555777. The Poison Centre number is for medical doctors that need assistance with treatment and not for snake identification.
  • Transport to a hospital – will it be by ambulance or in a company vehicle. If the latter, where are the vehicle keys kept and does it always have sufficient fuel. Who will do the driving?
  • Basic First Aid.  Will there always a staff member on duty that is familiar with first aid for snakebite?
  • In serious Black Mamba or Cape Cobra bites, will there always be at least one person that knows how to properly use a bag valve mask reserve?
  • Lastly, are there competent snake handlers that know how to remove a problem snake or is there a contact number of a snake remover (we have a list of snake removers country wide on our website
In a snakebite emergency it is vitally important to get the victim to a hospital with a trauma unit quickly and safely.
The question asked most with regards to snakebite emergencies is where do you find a hospital with antivenom? Those hospitals that treat many snakebites usually have antivenom whereas hospitals in low-risk areas rarely stock it. Contacting your local hospital to check whether they stock antivenom seldom helps as they may have antivenom today, use it tonight and then it could take days or even weeks before it is replaced.  Some private doctors as well as veterinarians stock antivenom and their details are worth recording. In serious snakebite cases patients need a minimum of around 10 vials of polyvalent antivenom – one or two vials would be a total waste of time and may do far more harm than good. Having said that, also bear in mind that more than 80% of snakebite victims that are hospitalised do not receive antivenom as it is not required.
 Black Mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis).
Antivenom should never be injected other than by a medical doctor and in a hospital environment. The doctors need to carefully assess symptoms and only then can antivenom be considered. There are also real dangers when it comes to the use of antivenom as many people are allergic to antivenom and may have a severe reaction. Such a reaction can be quite mild – a bit of itching or muscular fasciculations, but in some cases victims go into anaphylaxis – a very serious medical condition that can be fatal if not treated promptly.  
Cape Cobra (Naja nivea).
The African Snakebite Institute assists those companies that training is done for, with emergency snakebite protocols. Please E-mail Ashley ( for details of courses offered.
Snake Awareness and Venomous Snake Handling
– Gauteng

Saturday 30 July 2016
Snake Awareness and Venomous Snake Handling – Heia Safari Ranch, Muldersdrift.

For course details, go to:
Advanced Snake Handling
– Gauteng

Sunday 31 July 2016
Advanced Snake Handling – Heia Safari Ranch, Muldersdrift.

For course details, go to:
Snake Awareness and Venomous Snake Handling
– Mpumalanga

Saturday 13 August 2016
Snake Awareness and Venomous Snake Handling – Nelspruit: Venue to be announced.

For course details, go to:
Snake Awareness and Venomous Snake Handling
– KwaZulu-Natal

Saturday 20 August 2016
Snake Awareness and Venomous Snake Handling – PheZulu Safari Ranch, Assagai, Durban.

For course details, go to:

DANGER - Beware of Snakes

Snake Warning Sign in plastic or Chromadek – R50.00 each

Above price excludes delivery.

For orders please E-mail Ashley Kemp

Snake Handling Equipment Special

Budget Snake Tong and Standard Hook with free First Aid Guide and Safety Glasses – R750.00

Above price excludes delivery.

For orders please E-mail Ashley

NEW ASI First Aid for Snakebite kit
(Comes packed in a water-tight durable Pelican box.)

The ASI First Aid for Snakebite kit contains:

Micro Bag Valve Mask Reserve, 
Emergency eye-wash container, 
200 ml of Sodium Chloride for venom in the eyes,
Two eye pads,
Surgical scissors,
Two ASI Smart Pressure Bandages,
10 Painblok tablets,
A Sam 36 ' Splint,
6 large surgical gloves, 
Safety glasses, 
A 2 x 1.1 m emergency space blanket,
A triangular bandage,
A one-way valve for mouth-to-mouth resuscitation
And The New ASI First Aid for Snakebite Booklet.


Above price excludes delivery.

For orders please E-mail Ashley

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