Beware of the cobra: why snakebites are soaring in the UK

Doctors have treated more than 300 people attacked by snakes. Blame the craze for exotic pets, not the humble adder

Name: Snakebites.

Age: Ancient.

Appearance: Two deep fang marks, somewhere fleshy.

I hope this is a nice, lighthearted pass notes. It isn’t.

Oh, come on. The country is on fire. Prices are rising. Can’t we have a lovely feelgood story about snakes? Nope. According to the journal Clinical Toxicology, which drew on data from the UK National Poisons Information Service, the number of people who have been bitten by snakes has rocketed in recent years.

Goddammit, snakes! I know, and I’m sorry, but the facts speak for themselves. Medics in the UK have treated 321 snakebites in the past 11 years.

That’s crazy. What did we do to make the adders so angry? You misunderstand me. This isn’t about people being randomly attacked by snakes in the wild.

Oh thank God. No, it’s about people who keep venomous snakes as pets, and are then attacked by said pets, sometimes with harrowing consequences.

That’s even worse somehow! It is. Some of the snakebites have resulted in intensive care stays, amputation and – in one case – death.

What sort of snakes are doing this? It varies. Some of the most serious bites have come from species such as the king cobra (which can rise up on its tail to bite your face) and a spitting cobra from Mozambique (reported to be one of the most dangerous snakes in Africa).

Venomous snakes sound like absolutely terrible pets, you know. Don’t be stupid. There’s something majestic and mysterious about the venomous snake. They demand to be treated with the utmost respect.

Well, I suppose if they’re being cared for sensibly by owners who understand the dangers … Did I mention that, in 13 cases, the snake had bitten a child under the age of five?

What the hell? But it’s legal to keep exotic venomous pets in your house, so long as you have the proper licence.

That’s a relief. So I can go about my day as normal, then. You can. So long as you choose to deliberately ignore the highly deadly saw-scaled viper that was found on the loose in Salford in December.

What!? And don’t forget that snakes are far more likely to escape their enclosures in hot weather, as they did in 2018 when there was a “mass breakout” of captive snakes.

OK, I’ll never go outside again, then. It’s fine. It’s still vanishingly uncommon to be bitten by a snake. You’re much more likely to get hurt in a traffic accident, or a fire, or falling down in the street. Honestly, the entire world is a total deathtrap, and snakes are probably the least of your worries.

This isn’t helping. Sorry.

Do say: “Snakebites are becoming more frequent in the UK.”

Don’t say: “In my day, we all had gerbils.”

The GuardianTramp

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