Tiger Snakes and a warming Gippsland

(aecvets.com)

Sad stories of tiger snake fatalities (at least 2) are doing the rounds of Bairnsdale at the moment. As well there was a piece last week in the Bairnsdale Advertiser where an unlucky dog owner lost two of her dogs to tiger snake bites. In a way snakes are a natural hazard of our town. The Mitchell River is probably like a super highway for them. As well for most of the river’s passage it is lined with scrub or bush. Even in town suitable snake habitat exists alongside the popular walking track between the two bridges – much of it in the process of restoration and revegetation by the admirable efforts of the Bairnsdale Urban Landcare Group.

After nearly 40 years of living in remote locations in the foothills of the high country I have had some experience with a number of different snake varieties. In Ensay the main species was the relatively docile, but still venomous, red bellied black snake. However towards the end of my stay there browns (possibly copperheads) were more frequently seen. Only once in that time did I see a tiger snake in Ensay and it had obviously been brought down from the high country or the bush in a flooded Little River. Conversely when in the high country it was the tiger that was most frequently come across. The other thing of note was that there was a sort of unofficial competition amongst locals as to the first snake siting in the spring – usually during the AFL finals series.

I have written at some length about the Grey Headed Flying Fox occupation of the riverside near the junction of McCulloch and Riverine Streets and suggested that the occupation and size of the colony may have been influenced by climate change. See here and here. The point of this is that climate change is obviously affecting all life on the planet. Most of the results of these effects remain unrecorded or unrecognised. My anecdotal history of snakes in the Ensay district suggests that the ranges of the different species may be changing. Warming winters will have some effect on the length of period of hibernation. Likewise these venomous species may become more active and for longer periods as our climate warms.

Recently I witnessed a kangaroo travelling at speed down one of our suburban roads towards Main Street. It was obviously both lost and terrified, and had most likely come from the bush beside the river. This sighting undoubtedly is a rarity but I fear the visits to our streets and gardens by the tiger snake will become more common as Gippsland warms.