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Friday, 3 July 2020

Book Review - The Dangerous Snakes of Africa - Princeton University Press


     Recently I reviewed a book on spiders and made the observation that many people seem to have an ingrained and sometimes irrational fear of arachnids. This aversion is perhaps only topped by a dread of snakes! A healthy respect for venomous snakes is a good thing, however; they are potentially dangerous to humans and are capable of causing injury and death.  
     Snakes are an integral and vital part of a healthy ecosystem, and treated with respect and caution, should be left alone to occupy their place in the predator/prey cycle, so essential to maintaining a natural balance.  Even though snake/human encounters may be deadly, it is more likely that you will survive a snake bite than die from one. In fact, you are at greater risk from death at the hands of your fellow man, traffic accidents and other hazards associated with everyday life. In Africa the people who suffer most from snake bites, ("the biggest public health crisis you've never heard about," as Kofi Annan put it), are the rural poor - subsistence agriculturalists with primitive tools, barefoot, and living in huts that are not sealed against snake entry. The average white resident, or tourist, wearing sturdy footwear, often covering the ankle, and long trousers is at very low risk from venomous snakes. And for the overly cautious, commercial snake gaiters are available.
     The authors of this work are highly respected authorities on African snakes with a combined experience in excess of fifty years. Tragically, before completion of the first draft, Bill Branch was diagnosed with ALS and rapidly succumbed, leaving it to Stephen Spawls to complete the work alone. 
     This book fills a real need in Africa, presenting as it does high resolution photographs of all the dangerous snakes, enabling people to readily identify them, exercise due caution, and provide vital information to medical teams dealing with patients who have been bitten by snakes. Such timely and accurate information can mean the difference between life and death. Specific antivenoms are available for snakes known to pose significant risk in certain areas, and generalized antivenoms are also effective in many instances. Having said this, antivenom does not keep up with the need for it. Big pharma is motivated by profit and there is little incentive to invest time and money in products used mainly in the poorest areas of the world, where the expectation of return on investment is minimal.
     Distribution maps are provided for each species, with a plea for observers to report sightings outside the known range, since for many species information is lacking, and increased knowledge can serve to reduce suffering.
     At the end of each species account there is a section entitled Medical Significance. Here information is provided as to the level of threat and the type of venom injected by the snake - Cytotoxic, Haemorrhagic, Neurotoxic or Myotoxic. Appropriate dos and don'ts are given with the advice that a patient should always be transported to the nearest hospital quickly and safely if that possibility exists.
     The final sections of the book are packed with a wealth of information regarding the frequency of bites, treatments available, how to stabilize and transport a victim, and even the administration of antivenom by a lay person. Appropriate pictures highlight each section.
     A checklist of dangerous snakes from regions and countries of Africa is very useful, as is a list of medical and snakebite terms. A glossary completes the picture.
     I have little doubt that this book will be a valuable reference for herpetologists, both amateur and professional, but it will also be a practical guide for people most at risk, who are those possessing the least knowledge, ironically. 
     One is left with the hope that improving living standards throughout Africa will lead to a reduction in the number of snakebites, and that humans and snakes will be able to peacefully coexist. The point is made that in Australia, the only continent where the number of venomous snakes exceeds harmless ones, only two to five deaths from snakebites are recorded each year. This is due to better education, better medical facilities, hospitals stocked with antivenom, and dwellings that do not permit easy access to snakes. One hopes for no less for Africa.

The Dangerous Snakes of Africa
Stephen Spawls & Bill Branch
US$35.00 - £30.00 -  9780691207926 - over 650 Colour photographs, maps and diagrams - 5.25 in. x 8.5 in.
Publication date: 04 August 2020 

59 comments:

  1. I sometimes dislike the winter, but when you only mention snakes to me I feel bad. I really hate them. Here we have only one who is poison, but it's seldom dangerous. I can't help it, I'm really afraid of them. I will never buy this book, David. I'm sure it's a nice and interesting book, but not for me.

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  2. Hi David,
    Appears to be a fascinating book, We were in Africa and came across a Black Mamba, we were both amazed at the speed it covered the ground, our guide said not to worry they had antivenom at the hospital, that was an hour away, I believe it only takes 20 minutes for the venom to kill you, we were lucky.
    You stay safe

    John

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  3. Another factor which I believe contributes to Australia's very low numbers of deaths from snake bite is that they are protected. People are MUCH more likely to be bitten if they are interfering with snakes.
    That said I give them a very healthy distance. In one of our homes a red-bellied black snake lived under the front steps and frequently sunned itself there. For about nine months of the year I only used the back door.
    Similarly, swimming across a river one day as I turned to breath I found my head level with a snake (who swum much better than me). I sank to the bottom and watched it go by over my head.

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    1. Miriam says she would have gulped so much water she would have drowned!

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    2. I took a very deep breath before I went under - and had an excellent incentive to hold it. I think the snake was at least four feet long - and it seemed longer. Much longer.

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  4. Hi David! Well, you got that right - neither spiders nor snakes are my faves. But when I was in Israel I visited a snake park with my grandchildren, and we got to hold snakes - non poisonous ones - and I was surprised that they didn't feel cold and slimy as I had thought, and they were wonderful to look at. It always seem to be the hard working poor in every society who are at greater risk, and pharma companies want to sell to the rich. Here in Germany most snakes are harmless, and rarely seen. Thanks for reviewing this book for us! I'm off to bed now so I'll wish you a good night! Hugs to you and Miriam, Valerie

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  5. Fascinating. Snakes are such an important part of a healthy ecosystem, even the venomous ones.

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  6. Thank you for the great book review David, I shall keep that in mind.

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  7. Buenas noches, amigo, como estas! i... well... will tell you that i almost fell out of the armchair when i entered here! If i had that book close to me wouldn´t even look askance at it, because... oh my... i think i´m going to faint...:D jajaja!
    where are the sweet little birds?
    scared in their nests!
    Have a beautiful weekend, full of roses, birds, daisies and butterflies
    Saludos!

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  8. There are humans more venomous than snakes; yet snakes are definitely not my 'cup of tea'.
    The book on the dangerous snakes of Africa sounds like a very useful one for those wishing to learn how to avoid and/or treat snakebites.

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  9. I must say I don't know much about snakes and this sounds like a fascinating read.

    Have a great weekend!

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  10. I have a theory that we are instinctively afraid of snakes because we had to avoid the umbilical cord in order to survive our own birth.

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  11. Hello David! Nice review of the book!
    I don’t like snakes and here we have many dangerous snakes!
    I saw a snake in my yard and had to lock in my dog until it disappeared!
    You can see them crossing the road in Summer time!
    Have a happy July! Enjoy your weekend!
    Dimi...

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  12. Sounds like an interesting book David. Not for me to be honest.

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  13. Great review - and an interesting looking book. I remember trying to photograph Gouldian Finches in northern Australia, when a snake slithered up the bank I was sitting on. It would reasonable to say I made. a few noises to let it know I was there, and thankfully it went off in a different direction!

    Hope all is well - Stewart M - Melbourne

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  14. I can see that such a book will be invaluable to the public and medical staff alike, but it saddens me that money (profit) should be put ahead of helping those most in need of care when bitten by a snake.

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  15. Un livre qui doit comporter de belles photos.
    J’aimerai bien acheté un livre sur les serpents de France. J'ai lu beaucoup de choses sur internet sur les vipères, puisque j'en ai beaucoup. Et il est vrai qu'il y'a très peu de décès dû à une morsure par an, c'est seulement 1 en France par an. Il y'a plus d'accident avec les guêpes, et bien entendu les voitures et autres!
    Bonne journée

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  16. Hello David,

    Great review! Snakes are interesting and it is good to know which snakes are dangerous!
    Thank you for linking up and sharing your post. Happy 4th of July! Enjoy your day, have a great weekend! PS, thank you for the visit and comment.

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    1. May I point out that 4th of July is a holiday only in the United States, not elsewhere in the world. It is a normal day here with no significance beyond the fact that it is Saturday.

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  17. Hi David. I am grateful I don't have to be overly concerned about snakes in my day to day life.
    Let's hope if the antivenom can't get to the high risk population that the book can. It is truly sad to know that the wealthy pharma companies can't see the value in helping those less fortunate. :(

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  18. A good review on snakes, thanks for sharing.

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  19. Buenas tardes, apreciado amigo David, a las serpientes les tengo verdadero pavor o pánico como quieras llamarle, aún no he encontrado ese motivo pero no puedo remediarlo. Seguramente, no podría vivir en un país como Australia o en otro donde existan muchas serpientes.
    Ese libro que nos presentas se ve sumamente interesante y sobre todo para conocer que tipos de serpientes son las más venenosa y peligrosas para así poder identificarles en caso de una mordedura que es de vital importancia.
    Te deseo un buen fin de semana querido amigo y compadre David.

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  20. I am not afraid of snakes and enjoy spying them. Mostly here are the garter snakes that love the rock landscaping in our backyard. Recently one had eaten something rather large and was prone for quite a while digesting, I suppose. There are toads out there so maybe that. The most interesting snake I've seen here in Ontario was a fox snake at the old farm. There used to be no snakes, skunks or squirrels in Newfoundland so I am quite taken by all of these.

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  21. I don't mind snakes. This looks like an interesting book.

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  22. The picture on the cover is enough to put me off. I have met a few snakes in the Carolinas, some harmless some deadly. I made sure to give them a wide berth. Not a book I would buy either, thanks very much.

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  23. I don't hate snakes, but am glad I live in a place where there aren't any poisonous ones. - Margy

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  24. Well, I have to give this one a pass, David. I'm not your snake type of girl -- they totally freak me out. SO, I'll pass -- even though these are AFrican snakes!

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  25. During my years in up-country Liberia, I never knew of anyone bitten by a snake, but the Liberians had a well-honed ability to sense their presence and deal with them as necessary. We saw pythons a good bit, and green mambas. I had one up-close and personal encounter with one that thought it would be a good idea to come into the house to visit, but I sent him on his way. What was a little unnerving in the beginning was the presence of so many arboreal snakes. In the beginning, I feared one would drop down on me, but after enough bush treks I got over that when it didn't happen.

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    1. I think that everyone who has ever taken a walk through African forests thinks initially that arboreal snakes will strike from the trees, but as you say, that fear seems to dissipate quickly. I have seen snakes in Africa, but not having lived there, I have no knowledge of people bitten. However, I once had to go to a hospital in Burutu, Nigeria for an infection caused by a spider bite, and the doctor told me there of snakebite victims he had treated.

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  26. Mi fanno un po' impressione, non solo i serpenti, ma i rettili in generale. Riconosco comunque il grande impegno e la bravura dell'autore del blog e mi complimento con lui. Buona domenica.

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  27. Snakes, all our snakes are poisonous. Had one slither of my big toes once when there was bush at the back of our fence (houses now), it was a very long thick black snake, I didn't move at all so it just kept going.
    That book looks interesting as most books are.

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  28. An opportunity to read a book of African snakes, dangerous kind.

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  29. Hi David - I'm not keen on them (at all!) - but totally admire them after their evolution. This sounds an excellent resource for many, and an interest for others. I expect there'll be helpful spin-offs for specific areas, or different types ... wonderful to know about. All the best - Hilary

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  30. Hi David, het looks very dangerous. I think we have not much snakes in our country. Hav a nice sunday. Greetings Caroline

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  31. I have lived in Africa long enough to know that if you leave snakes alone they will generally leave you alone. We have had snakes in the house when in Rhodesia but in South Africa I rarely saw one. My Mother found a spitting cobra in the bathroom one day in Rhodesian days, my father called the snake park and we then discovered it was less than an inch under record size and a female!!! Wonder where all the babies went to? Not long after I got married the cats one day warned us that something was wrong - puff adder in the bedroom!! I am still fond of snakes but I also have a lot of respect for the poisonous ones.
    Keep well Diane

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    1. A Puff Adder in the bedroom would be about the last thing you would want!

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  32. I really hate snakes!

    Hope your weekend has been great so far David.

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  33. Thanks once again for a very thorough book review, David, and even without checking out this book, which honestly I would not be, I have learned much from this review post. I fear the photos alone would frighten me as much as seeing actual snakes.

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  34. Sounds like a very informative book, thanks for the review, I learned somethings already.

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  35. This looks to be a potentially very valuable reference, David. Very nice review and pertinent comments.

    Growing up in Florida and being very active in the outdoors, my encounters with snakes have been somewhat frequent. They are part of the natural world, possess their own unique beauty and are fascinating to observe.

    Again, thank you for highlighting an important guide.

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  36. You are right, spiders are scary, they scared me before and if they are big or tarantulas, but I have got used to small ones in the garden. I am afraid of snakes, so this book would be interesting to get to know them better.
    A hug.

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  37. Otro libro interesante. Siempre es bueno saber y conocer a las serpientes seria una buena idea. Donde yo vivo hay varias clases de culebras, una llamada bastarda es la más peligrosa no por su veneno, que aunque tiene no puede inyectarlo ( los colmillos o dientes, los tiene muy adentro ) alguna víbora tal ves haya pero yo nunca la vi. Un abrazo.

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  38. The photograph on the front cover is amazing …
    Many thanks for the review.

    All the best Jan

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  39. Please excuse me if I've told you this story before, David, but I've had a fondness, coupled with a healthy respect, for snakes since I was a child. We had a television presenter by the name of George Cansdale 'The Zoo Man'. Hulton Press was the publisher of a better range of childrens' comics and held the Hulton Boys and Girls Exhibition every year in London. George Cansdale was there at the one I went to, and I remenber him dipping into a box and taking out a Royal Python and appraoching the assembled crowd with it. It seemed that everyone backed off - except me as my brain said he wouldn't do this if it was dangerous. I ended up, to my delight, with the python hanging round my neck!

    Even if I was going to Africa, I might not take this book as, by the time I'd consulted it and worked out what was coming for me, it would have already got me, or sped past and vanished!

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    1. You had not told the story before, Richard. Great memory!

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  40. I am happy to read you again!
    The snakes are not my friends, but I think this book is beautiful to read! Very nice review!
    Vishing you a very nice week, David!
    Hugs from a very rainy Netherlands!

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  41. Good morning, thanks so much for stopping by my blog

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  42. Facinating animals snakes David, and a great review of this book. The only snakes Hierophis viridiflavus I encounterd was in the garden of the house of my brother in France. I took some great photos of it at that time. Unfortunatly the house is sold by the end of August. So no more encounters there of snakes and other beautyful animals.
    Regards,
    Roos

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  43. I'm not keen on snakes, but when I was in Australia I went to Steve Irwin's wild zoo and wore a HUGE snake round my neck.... I still shudder when I look at the photo.
    When I was little my back yard was full of slow-worms.... and I would pick them up and put them in my pocket and keep them as pets. They were actually legless lizards, the tail would come off if you tried to pick it up by the tail. Wouldn't want to do that now.

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  44. Los reptiles , prefiero verlos de lejos. Nunca me rosaría con uno de ellos. He visto algunos, a una cierta distancia.

    Besos

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  45. A very good guide for those travelling in Africa I think! I don't mind snakes at all, I remember in Disney World I stopped at a bench and a small snake slowly slid out of a bush at eye level, it was fascinating and the closest i've ever been to one! I haven't seen a snake in the UK at all!

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    1. Then I am one up on you, Pam. I have twice seen a Grass Snake on visits to the UK. Right where I live in Southern Ontario, Northern Water Snake and Eastern Garter Snake are common and several other species are present but much harder to find.

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  46. Hi David, thanks for stopping by at my blog. I've tried to comment before but it hasn't published. I'm trying a different browser now so fingers crossed it works.

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  47. Un libro fascinante, muy recomendable!!!

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  48. I am terrified of spiders and snakes, but I don't know why. (I don't like bugs, either.) But I do try to leave them alone, doing their own thing, because I know they're an important part of the ecosystem.

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    1. You are an enlightened person, Anne, recognizing that they have a critical role to play in the biosphere, and whether an individual likes them or not is irrelevant.

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  49. Fascinating, and a terrific review.

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