Snake attack… [1]

There are two important venomous snakes in the Gallinato area of Salta where our small farm is located: the Cascabel (South American rattlesnake, Crotalus durissus) and the Yarará (crossed pit viper, Bothrops diporus) [2]. The former’s venom is neurotoxic while the latter’s can cause severe tissue damage although, contrary to general belief, it is not often a cause of death. (See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bothrops_alternatus).

Enoc, a boy of eight was returning from school after lunchtime with his brother Angel and his father Juliano, our caretaker. When fording a small river, the boy either stepped on or near a snake of about 120 cm. The snake reacted angrily and bit him. “I saw the snake going for him and heard him shouting that he had been bitten” Juliano told me later, and then he added “I hit it with a couple of stones but it hid under some large stones. I left it as I thought that taking Enoc to the nearest clinic was more important”.

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The small river crossing showing the stone at the centre of the picture used to step across. Tee snake was above my shadow.

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Another view of the crossing.

Juliano, wisely, calmed the boy, ran to his house, got the boy in his car and drove straight away to the public clinic. He was also shrewd enough to stop at the Police post located 5km from our farm to report the accident. In turn the Police radioed the Vaqueros [3] clinic and, by the time of Juliano’s arrival an ambulance and a Doctor were on standby! The boy was taken immediately to the Hospital Público Materno Infantil in Salta city  for treatment.

While this was taking place we were returning from the city of Salta after having dealt with pending administrative issues as well as getting some essential farm supplies. We were near our farm already when we got a recorded message from Juliano telling us of the accident. We immediately turned around and tried to get in touch with him. I was concerned about the availability of anti-snake bite sera at the Vaqueros clinic (I was unaware that Enoc was on his way to the large hospital in Salta!).

We failed to talk to him but we met him at Vaqueros and collected him to follow the ambulance. Bea, Enoc’s mother was already with him and over the phone we learnt that he was stable and -apparently- well. The hospital has an emergency unit to deal with these kinds of problems so I should. Juliano believed that a yarará was the responsible snake but was not sure.

We managed to get into the emergency room (against the rules). Enoc was calm and already they had given him all needed medication for snakebite. I expected to be told to leave the room any minute so I had a quick look. His vital signs were normal (great relief!) Further, a rapid look at his leg revealed that he had been bitten just below the right knee and, apart from some small amount of dried blood I failed to see any fang marks but only a small scratch. Then, as expected, I was told to leave!

The conclusion was that the snake failed to take hold of him, perhaps because of him wearing long sweat pants. The medical personnel were very keen on the identification of the snake so we drove back to the farm to look for the culprit. Unfortunately, we failed to find it and informed the hospital accordingly. We learnt that the boy would be kept under observation for 24 hours but he was stable.

The following day in the afternoon I went again to look for the snake and this time I found it. It had died, probably from Juliano’s stoning and it had been already partly eaten, probably by a fox that had pulled it out of its final resting place and had a “snack_e”.

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The rear end had been eaten but, the marks were not those of a yarara! It was a rattlesnake!

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The dead snake markings.

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The markings of an earlier rattlesnake caught at the farmhouse and later released far away (See: https://bushsnobinafrica.wordpress.com/2016/04/07/rattled/). 

I immediately informed Juliano of this but by then the boy had been discharged from hospital as he continued to be healthy.

As the snake had a clear bulge, I spent a bit of time doing a post-mortem that revealed that it was busy digesting a large rat that it had caught a couple of days earlier. My conclusion was that it was sunning itself digesting its meal when Enoc stepped on it or too close for comfort and this prompted the snake’s reaction.

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The fangs that failed to reach their target!

Luckily the incident ended well but I still I wish to highlight the excellent public health coverage that exists in Salta where after an accident such as this not only there was an ambulance on stand-by to take the patient to the specialized hospital but also that it was immediately given the correct treatment and kept under close medical supervision until the doctors considered that he was out of danger!

Liking snakes but being a coward, I am buying myself a pair of wellingtons that I plan to wear from now on instead of my usual sandals!

 

[1] This event took place about ten days ago but, because of communication “challenges” I am only able to publish it today.

[2] Moschione, F.N. (2014). Relevamiento de Fauna. Finca El Gallinato, La Caldera, Provincia de Salta. Informe Relevamiento 2013-2014. 55pp.

[3] Vaqueros is the small town located about 10km from the farm on the way to Salta city on the national road No. 9.

 

Note: for those of you curious to see the stomach contents of the snake, I place the picture below. I warn you that some may not wish to see it and hence I place it here.

 

 

 

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