If you are one of the people that still follow the old adage of the only good snake is a dead snake, you’re not alone. Many people feel this way. After all, snakes are slimy evil creatures; I mean look at those eyes and those scales – disgusting right!? Why do we need them anyway?
Well, let’s for a minute forget about the snakes themselves. The easiest way to understand this might be from an angle which we humans are experts in.
What if I told you that snakes are critical to your survival? That without them systems which provide us with clean air, water and food would collapse. If I could demonstrate that without snakes the human race would suffer would you think differently? Would you think twice about advocating the killing of every snake you see?
I’m quite sure that I don’t have to define the word ecosystem too much. I think that these days the majority of us have at least a basic understanding of what an ecosystem is – that each and every organism which interacts within a given habitat (including people) forms part of a functioning system.
These systems mind-blowingly support the most intricate webs of life, a web which we easily take for granted but that we could not do without.
Ecosystems are like the engines of life on earth, remove the wrong components and you begin to lose power, remove too many and she may just shut down completely.
In short, humans directly benefit by the resources and processes supplied by natural ecosystems. These ecosystem services infiltrate every piece of our lives and include services such as: nutrient cycling, food, water, medicine, energy, pollination, pest and disease control to name but a few.
Yes, yes I’ve heard this all before – get to the point Grant; where do those horrid snakes come in. Surely they’re the exception?
The Missing Link
As with any system, if one component is lost or removed the entire system is affected.
If the species lost is a predator, then its prey species will potentially explode in number (think cane toad in Australia or rats in a City – no predators) due to the subsequent lack of population control – potentially decimating the available food source.
If the species lost is a prey animal, then its predators will have to turn to alternate food sources, if available, which could cause further declines in population numbers due to the increased competition and pressure for food resources.
Snakes are important components of any natural ecosystem that they are found in. In fact in most systems, snakes fill the important role of being both predator and prey and are an integral part of nature’s balance.
Depending on their size and species, snakes will eat just about anything – slugs, snails, worms, insects, fish, frogs, birds and their eggs, mammals and other snakes. Some species, like the Cape cobra, are even known to scavenge road kill.
Snakes and their eggs are also an important food source to other creatures. They’re eaten by fish, frogs, other snakes, birds and mammals.
Snakes & You
For South African’s, snakes like the slug eater and the mole snake are excellent for the garden as they eat exactly what their names suggest. The mole snake doesn’t only eat moles however. Along with other feared snakes like the Cape cobra and the puff adder, these reptiles consume great numbers of rodents.
Yes, that’s right – they control your mice and rat populations for free!!
Most people try to control these pests with chemicals which end up polluting our environment.
Snakes provide an easy, environmentally friendly, free and natural pest control service.
Let’s put this into perspective: Let’s say that we were to remove the Cape cobra completely, or even just reduce the numbers dramatically, from an agricultural system where grapes are farmed for wine production.
First: the population numbers of their usual food – probably mice in an altered environment – will increase; not good for wine production.
Second: their usual predators, let’s say secretary birds for example, may have to resort to eating more lizards like skinks and chameleons. The insects which these lizards eat subsequently increase potentially wreaking havoc on the local crop (remember that this is the oversimplified version).
Researchers have recently discovered that snake venom has harmless toxins which may hold the key to treating a range of life-threatening conditions like cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure.
Research has also discovered that black-mamba venom contains painkilling proteins more powerful than morphine and without the side-effects although there is still quite some development needed before they are ready for the mainstream.
Still think snake conservation is a waste of time?
None of us expect people to suddenly starting loving snakes like we do. But we do hope that people make smart decisions based on facts and stop killing them.
Remember that if you come across a snake it is not legal to catch it without the necessary permits. Most people get bitten while interfering with snakes. It’s best to leave them alone and call us for snake removal.
What’s the point of snake conservation?
We need snakes, and they might even save your life your life one day. Whether you agree or disagree, as always, please feel free to leave your comments below.