If it Can't Hurt You, Leave it Alone!

A few years ago the mother of a school friend of mine, (let's call her Mrs B.), found a Green Tree Snake hanging on a bush in her front garden. She and her neighbour, both otherwise functioning adults, went into hysterics. Eventually one of them managed to chop the snake in half with a spade. As it thrashed around in its death throes she struck its head with the spade until it stopped moving. Then she and the neighbour dumped the two pieces into their wheelie bins, one half into each bin 'in case the two bits got back together somehow'.

Later, Mrs B. laughed as she told me this story, but I was aghast.

"Why on earth would you want to kill a tree snake? They're totally harmless!"

"Oh I know that" she replied, her voice dripping scorn. "If I'd thought it could hurt me I wouldn't even have gone near it".

I was outraged that someone would kill an animal, not for food or because it was a threat to them but simply because they didn't like it. Especially someone like Mrs B., who claimed to 'love animals'. She certainly liked animals in the abstract, like the cute little monkeys on nature documentaries, or the tigers on her hideous collectible plates. She was also very fond of her dog, which she treated like a yapping, furry child, but her fondness and compassion for animals didn't extend to real wild creatures.

Apart from being a cruel and stupid thing to do, killing a tree snake is also illegal. Tree snakes are native to the area where Mrs B lives, and are a protected animal. They are legally protected with good reason.

While some reptiles and amphibians were traditional foods for Australian Aboriginal tribes, it wasn't until the arrival of Europeans that humans began to have a serious impact on the population of Australian herps. Destruction of habitat is the main cause for the population decline of many species of herps. Then there are the problems caused by introduced species of animals: the poisonous Cane Toad, which kills nearly all creatures which attempt to eat it, and competes for suitable habitats with native frogs, and predators like the cat (feral or domestic). Endangered herps include the Broad-headed Snake, the Western Swamp Turtle, and the Adelaide Pygmy Blue-tongue Lizard. Finally many herps, and in particular, snakes, fall victim to deliberate killing due to peoples' fear and prejudices. People who wouldn't dream of bludgeoning to death a baby bird or kicking a puppy will deliberately run over a python basking on the road or crush a tiny lizard with a broom. They seem to forget that reptiles are living creatures too. They don't deserve such senseless cruelty.

Reptiles also form an important part of our ecosystem. Geckoes and other small lizards eat insects. Carpet pythons prey on small rodents, so having one living near your house will help keep the mice down.

There are a few little things everyone can do to help reptiles to survive. Keeping domestic cats inside at night helps stop them preying on wildlife. If you see reptiles basking on the road, if at all possible try not to run over them. If you don't like reptiles, don't create conditions which attract them. If you leave food scraps lying around this will bring mice and rats, which in turn brings rodent eating snakes. Ponds may attract frogs, which will bring creatures that prey on frogs. On the other hand, if you do like reptiles, you can try to preserve a small section of bushland in your backyard for them to live in, and support conservation groups which help preserve reptile habitats. It probably goes without saying that venomous snakes should be avoided wherever possible. In fact, you shouldn't get to close to any wild snake if you can help it. Stand back, and the snake should go away. If it doesn't, you can go away yourself.

Above all, if it can't hurt you, leave it alone!