All creatures great and small ... and deadly, we save them all

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All creatures great and small ... and deadly, we save them all

Proving that no animal is too small, or too dangerous, a mamba was operated on after a horrific attack

Journalist

Some very unusual patients land on surgical operating tables from time to time – but it’s not often that vets are called upon to save the life of one of the deadliest snakes on the continent.
That was the situation facing Durban veterinarians Dr Francois Lampen and Dr Caryl Knox recently when local snake-catcher Nick Evans rescued a badly-injured Black Mamba from the Inanda area.
The Westville-based reptile conservationist, who extracted the 2.3 metre long mamba from behind the dashboard of an abandoned car, said he was shocked by the severity of reptile’s injuries.“It was gruesome. There were two gaping holes in its body that seem to have been caused by a metal spear. You could see its lung inflating and deflating as it breathed,” said Evans.
Determined to save its life, Evans took the injured snake to uShaka Sea World in Durban, where the wounds were inspected by Carl Schloms, manager of the Dangerous Creatures section.
Schloms called in uShaka animal vets Dr Lampen and Dr Knox, who placed the deadly reptile onto the operating table and put it under anaesthetic.“We use Propofol, the same anaesthetic used in humans, and calculate the correct dose based on the snake’s weight. It was asleep in a matter of seconds,” said Knox, who explained that the anaesthetic is injected directly into the heart, from where it flows rapidly to the brain.
Next, a tiny tracheostomy tube was inserted down the mamba’s throat so that it could be hooked up to a ventilator that feeds oxygen and anaesthetic gas to the snake’s single lung.
Knox estimated that the snake was in theatre for nearly two hours as Lampen carefully disinfected and sutured the gaping wounds.
Evans, who watched the operation unfold, was warned that the snake was very badly injured and that it might not survive because of infection. Lampen also had to anaesthetise and operate on the snake a few days later to secure the stitching.Knox, who has had to attend to injured seals, dolphins, penguins, sharks, seals, snakes, lizards and dogs, said it was first time she and Lampen had treated such severe wounds on a black mamba.
Sadly, Evans learned over the weekend that the snake succumbed to its injuries late last week, having survived nearly five weeks after the first operation.
Evans, 24, said: “Some may say: ‘Just put it out of its misery.’ But, do we do that with people? No, doctors try to save people from the most horrific injuries. Why should we just assume the snake is happy with dying? It had a fighting chance, it deserved to go for it.“A part of me is so angry with those guys who stabbed the mamba, but for the most part, I don’t resent them. They’re in a rural area, far from help. They didn’t think anyone would come to help them and there were a lot of people there, including many children.
“So I can’t blame them for being so worried about everyone else and I can’t blame them for trying to kill the snake. To them, and to those who haven’t gained a snake education, any snake needs to be killed before it tries to kill them (snakes don’t seek people to kill).“But now they have my number, they will call in future. They said they’d share my number with their friends and family in the community. So this whole ordeal was not a waste at all, it was a valuable lesson for them. Some of the people even came over to touch the mamba!” he wrote in on his Facebook page.
Evans, who has been bitten three times by venomous snakes (but fortunately not severely) offers his snake-rescue skills on a voluntary basis in the Durban area.  He is passionate about saving snakes (and people) from unnecessary harm and has had a busy few weeks during the current mamba mating season.
• Evans can be reached on 072-809-5806 or email: nickevanskzn@gmail.com

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