Why Use a Snake Guide – 9 Reasons

Domokos Toth shooting in-situ photos of a green pit viper in Southeast Asia.
Domokos Toth shooting in-situ photos of a green pit viper in Southeast Asia.

Having a local snake guide can and probably will mean the difference between having a successful or unsuccessful herping trip. If you’ve spent a lot of money on travel, and took time away from work or family, then it is that much more important to ensure the best, and the safest experience possible. Isn’t it?

In this article I talk about the value of taking a Snake Guide along with you as you look for snakes in Asia. This can of course be generalized to any other type of guide – birding, amphibians, tour guide on treks, etc. in any other place in the world.

It’s no secret there are many animals in Asia’s forests that can kill you. Some areas have tigers, bears, elephants, or crocodiles and others only have venomous snakes, bees, spiders, centipedes and scorpions – any of which can send you into anaphylactic shock and an early grave.

Even if you cannot afford to take a local guide, you should read these reasons to have a guide and prepare on your own as well as possible. Definitely bring someone with you and don’t go alone, there are too many unpredictable circumstances which could end up wrecking your field trip.

Reasons To Use a Local Guide

Knowledge of Exact Location

Though there are plenty of people who will share with the public a general location of where they found snakes, the specific details, and the time of year and weather affect how much wildlife you will see during your field trip.I know of a great spot for a certain pit viper during a couple of months a year, and then it’s spotty for a few months, and for 6-7 months, you couldn’t find this snake there if you camped right on top of it. This knowledge comes from hundreds of trips to the place. It isn’t found online in any forum. Nobody who has been to the spot once or thrice, or ten times during the year is going to know this information – it is only something a local guide can pick up on.A local guide can tell you the best months, and exactly where to go for your best chance at finding pythons, cobras, whip or rat snakes.

Seasonal Fluctuations

Where snakes are and whether they are active at all during a certain time period – varies. It varies with months of the year. Certain species can be found all year. Some snakes are found much more often during certain months, and not at all during some other months.

Weather

A local guide can tell you which wildlife species you are likely to see when it’s raining and warm, or sunny and cold, and any variation of these and other conditions which will affect your herping success.

Species List

There isn’t a book on the market, including mine, that is up-to-date with exact range locations. They’re all wrong. They’re wrong because they’re constantly changing. You won’t find Krabi on the range map for Calliophis intestinalis in any book, and yet, it’s here. This happens constantly throughout the year, someone finds a snake that blows away the previous range record, and yet few people know because the find isn’t recorded by biologists doing research. So, the knowledge is passed between hobbyists and some of it makes its way back to local guides.A local guide can give you the latest information about which species you might find during your trip.

Appropriate Clothing

A guide can tell you what the best outfit is for your field trip. On some trips you could wear comfortable running shoes if you wanted. For others, you’d need shin-high rubber boots for more protection.A guide can tell you exactly the sort of covering that will be needed to make you the most comfortable. Sure you could slog through in whatever you wanted, but I’ve seen so many people wear heavy hiking boots when there was no need for it at all.

Snake Handling Training / Suggestions

Everyone and their mother has snake tongs. They’re now cheap and available everywhere. China is cranking out the cheapest stuff I’ve ever seen, and it sucks for snakes, but people don’t understand why, so they buy it. Cheap tongs can hurt snakes, and so too can people who don’t understand exactly how to use them to prevent injury to the snakes.

Finding Snakes

You will absolutely find more snakes with an experienced local guide than you would on your own, or with others who are not experienced in the area. Over time I’ve become better at spotting snakes in different areas. It comes from seeing snakes in these spots over and over, and knowing what I’m targeting as I look over each type of habitat. I have a friend who is an absolute “Whip Snake Specialist.” There’s nobody else, probably in Asia, who can spot whip snakes like he can. If that’s what you’re looking for, he’s your man. My specialty seems to be snakes, lizards, and geckos in trees for whatever reason.It isn’t easy to find snakes in Thailand or anywhere that I’m aware of. Those who are most successful have experience looking and finding over dozens of days and nights. Just for this reason alone, it is in your best interest to use a snake guide.

Forest Safety

Besides precautions for snakebite, there are other dangers in the forest that a local guide will be aware of. There are certain bees that may get in your face and your natural reaction is to keep swatting at them. With some bees, that’s OK. With others, they will quickly swarm and be all over you.

Critical First Aid Response

Some snakebites require compressive wraps to slow down the venom spread throughout the body, and other snakebites are further complicated by wrapping. Your guide should know the best first-aid procedures for the snake that bit you. A local guide also knows the closest hospital to take you, how best to get you there, and which antivenom (if any) there will be to treat you once you arrive. A guide knows where to get the antivenom if the hospital doesn’t have it. A guide will know where to get more help if you need carried out of the forest and cannot or should not walk on your own.

A local guide in the rainforest of Asia, or anywhere in the world is a necessity for anyone who wants to have a fun, productive, and safe time looking for snakes.