To tong or not to tong: that is the question

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By Ashok Captain

Viper rattlensnake skeleton

If there is one question we at IndianSnakes are getting asked a lot lately, it is: do we recommend snake hooks or tongs for rescuing snakes? 

While we acknowledge the place tongs have gathered, IndianSnakes vehemently advocates only snake hooks or sticks be used, with proper training of course. There have been numerous cases where tongs have resulted in minor/ serious injuries to the snake, defeating the very purpose of ‘rescuing’ it. More on this topic in our next blog. 

Meanwhile, we asked Ashok Captain for his view on the debate of hooks vs tongs and this is what he had to say:

To tong or not to tong: … that is the question!

I don't use tongs either. I have a (old version) of the collapsible tongs and take them along on calls and only use them to remove clutter from the area where the snake probably is. 

I feel tongs if used gently do not prevent the snake from 'escaping' and if used with extreme force will break the ribs of the snake (see the figure above). There are ways of using a pair of tongs without damaging the snake (some of the TV wallahs sponsored by the manufacturers are quite good at it (they use the tongs pretty much open as a kind of a hooked stick), but I feel the tongs are heavier, more expensive and the scissor action freaks most (all?) snakes out.

Snake tongs

Snake tongs (Image for representation purposes only)        

snake hooks by IndianSnakes
Snake hooks and bag (Image for representation purposes only)

I use home-made 'asymmetric 'V' snake sticks - either a telescoping one made of an old trekking pole or a 'fixed' made of an old golf club. I find the 'V's are a better fit for all kinds of snakes (Calliophois/ Trimeresurus/ Bungarus/ Daboia diameters) and one can usually lift the snake without having to hold the tail. This is transferred into a clean, long, dark, triple-stitched, cotton snake bag that has tabs and sewn off corners. The bag is clipped onto a de-gutted badminton racquet to prevent fingers/ arms getting chomped. The top is twisted, doubled back and securely tied with a cord that is fixed to the snake bag. This operation is done with the racquet-bag on the ground and a snake stick across the open end. After the snake has been released, I wash the bag inside out. It should be clean enough to use as a face-towel. I've seen too many stinking bags that stink of various snakes and it's just not necessary. 

Another thing I have is a self-standing snake bag. One seam of the open end is partially cut open and a flexible plastic tube is inserted so it's like a self standing tent. The plastic is the stuff that is used for small bathroom curtains, available in a hardware shop. This saves time looking for sticks etc to prop open the bag. This is left on the ground in a corner (or not, depending on the situation/ location of the snake) and has the advantage of not shaking (useful for cobras and rescuers alike). Rom and Co use a short length of large diameter 'Finolex' type pipe tied to the end of the bag for Ophiophagus hannah removals.

snake hook bag

For 'rescues' at home, what works for small/ mid-sized snakes that don't move around a lot (e.g. something that's just eaten) a plastic bucket put over the snake and weighed down will restrain the snake until someone turns up to remove the snake. Another useful thing is a long bamboo with a broom tied to the end - the kind used for removing cobwebs from the ceiling. A lot of Indian homes have one and most are usually pretty long. The snake can be 'swept' away if in the garden close to a house.

Stay safe . . . and alive. A dead snake 'rescuer' gives snakes a bad name and doesn't help the cause one bit.


About the author
Ashok Captain is a reknowned Indian herpetologist who has authored books and papers on Indian snakes. Captain's Wood Snake (Xylophis captaini) and Ashok's Bronzeback Tree Snake (Dendrelaphis ashoki) have been named after him.