Why Australian farmers should not kill venomous snakes

R. Shine*, N. Dunstan, J. Abraham, P. Mirtschin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

Many Australians who work outdoors (notably, farmers and graziers) routinely kill venomous snakes. We argue that this attitude is misguided and dangerous. Despite their fearsome reputation, venomous Australian snakes pose little risk to human health (snakes kill an average of less than three people per year in Australia). Also, snakes confer a substantial benefit by consuming agricultural pests such as rodents. We estimate the magnitude of that benefit with data on snake diets, feeding rates and abundances. The most valuable rodent-controllers are Brownsnakes (genus Pseudonaja), which are rodent-specialists as adults and are abundant in agroecosystems across much of Australia. We calculate that a free-living adult Eastern Brownsnake consumes at least 50 mice per year (probably twice that number), and that population densities of Brownsnakes in agricultural areas can exceed 100 per km2. Thus, Brownsnakes remove thousands of mice per square kilometre of farmland per year. That offtake plausibly reduces rodent densities because Brownsnakes take all age classes and both sexes of rodents by hunting in burrows. Tolerating Brownsnakes also would benefit the environment (e.g. less reliance on toxic chemicals) and the health of humans and domestic pets (fewer rodent-mediated diseases) and counter-intuitively, might reduce rates of snakebite (because many bites occur when a snake is attacked). In summary, a societal policy of coexisting with highly venomous snakes would confer multiple benefits to Australian farmers.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAnimal Conservation
Early online date19 Dec 2023
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 19 Dec 2023

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2023. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.

Keywords

  • conservation
  • cost–benefit
  • Elapidae
  • human-snake conflict
  • human-wildlife conflict
  • Oxyuranus
  • Pseudonaja textilis
  • snakebite

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