Venomous snake restraint: Tailing elapids

Tailing elapid snakes is both more and less difficult than tailing viperids. It is more challenging because elapids can be quite physically strong and able to take control away from you by getting a solid body grip on your wrist, your leg, the snake hook, a table leg or anything else handy. Some arboreal elapids in particular are well adapted to maneuvering around tree branches, and consequently they can climb right up your hook with annoying speed and agility.

The really large elapids (king cobras, adult black mambas) are a physical challenge to the handler because they may be longer than the snake hook plus your arm's reach put together. As you can see, Mardi Snipes has his arms and his snake hook at full extension while keeping this attractive Malaysian king cobra under control. As I stand barely 5', I have some difficulty with the very large specimens and have had to adapt close-range tactics in order to work them safely.

It is less difficult in some ways because you can handle a light, agile and well muscled elapid in ways that would cause injury to a more fragile and heavy-bodied pit viper. They can support their own body weight when held up high in the air and you do not need to worry as much about dislocating their spines or breaking their ribs. They are also slower in their actual strikes than pit vipers, though they are faster moving and more agile at leading you a merry chase around the room.

It's a good idea to work the big elapids in a large, empty room without a lot of furniture for the snakes to hide under or climb on top of. Also you don't want anything on the floor that will keep you from stepping back and moving around freely to avoid the animal's lunges.

Even though some of the snakes I work are more than twice as long as I am tall and are doing their best to take a bite out of me, if I have plenty of space it's not too hard to continually maneuver around them in a sort of "tailing dance". The trick is being able to keep my hook at the right angle to control the animal's upper body, where the length of snake past my hook is shorter than the distance between us.

If your control point on the snake's body (eg, where your hook or tongs touches the snake) is farther from its head than your instrument is long, obviously you have a problem - the snake's head will be able to reach your hand if it turns around suddenly. Elapids can slide around on a hook so much that I find I can keep better control of the big ones by actually pulling them in closer to me. The trick is keeping them within that narrow range where they are close enough so that you can reach a safe control point on the snake's upper body with your hook, but far enough away that a single lunge won't get them in range to nibble on your toes. Basically I try to keep the snake's head about one and a half hook lengths away from my body, regardless of the size of the snake. That means I shift my grip higher up on the body for a longer animal.

This Indonesian king is somewhere around 10' or 11', so I only have to keep a few feet of his tail tucked up into my hand. He can't be allowed to wrap his tail around my wrist because this would give him too much leverage to pull himself back towards me. It's a real disaster when a much larger snake gets hold of your leg with its tail and uses that leverage to get in too close, so be careful with the back end as well as the front. Another reason to be mindful of the back end is that cobras are prone to gifting their handlers with extremely vigorous projectile showers to show their displeasure. If the snake is really too long for me to get creative with my finger grips to keep the back end tangled up tight in my hand, I probably want a second handler.

If I think the snake is getting too close and he slips through my hook, I step back and shake him out a bit to keep him off balance. The shaking motion is a little like cracking a whip, but it is much more gentle. If the animal becomes extremely agitated I may drop the tail and allow a retreat; once he's headed away from me I can pick up his hind end with the snake hook and grab his tail again. If he lunges, I parry with the hook and attempt to get control of his upper body with the hook to block further attempts at biting.

A very agitated large elapid should probably not be tailed; it is not safe for the snake or the handler. The safest and least stressful method of catching up a big elapid is the Pro Bagger. For everyday cage maintenance, a hide box with a latching door is sufficient.

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