Venomous snake restraint: Elapid head grips

Most veterinary and scientific procedures can be effectively carried out with the snake restrained in a tube. This is a much safer alternative for the handler and a less stressful one for the snake.

Safely restraining an elapid means getting a firm but gentle grip behind the head as well as controlling the agile, muscular body. Elapids can use their bodies in the same way a constrictor can. If an elapid wraps its lower body around your arm or leg it can use this leverage to pull out of a head grip, or more likely to injure itself by attempting to pull away as you tighten your grip. You also don't want them getting hold of table legs, chairs, etc. It is important that the entire body of an elapid be well under control when you are gripping its neck in this fashion.

Smaller elapids can be effectively wound up in your hand. The back end of a larger snake can be placed in a pillowcase or controlled by a second handler.

Elapid fangs are set fairly far forward in the mouth. Mambas in particular have long heads with the fangs in front of the eyes and just short of their nostrils, so they cannot envenomate a handler who keeps his or her fingers directly up against the back of the skull. This snake's head would have to turn nearly 90 degrees in order to bite, which it can't do as long as it's being held firmly.

Cobras have shorter heads and thicker necks, especially the smaller species such as Aspidelaps which can be very challenging to physically restrain. It can be difficult to tell where the back of the skull begins until you actually have your fingers in position. The black mamba in this picture is being restrained with my first finger bent so that the first knuckle is pressing on the back of its mandible and the tip of my thumb providing gentle pressure on the other side. A thicker-bodied cobra would be grasped more like a fire hose with both thumb and forefinger wrapped over and the rest of your hand securing the grip.

Click here to see a gallery of elapid head grip photos. Please remember that this material is copyrighted and may not be reproduced on any other web site without written permission by the authors.

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