There must be something about handling reptiles that awakens an inner-Steve Irwin. While not quite up there yet with the late, great, impossible-to-ignore Crocodile Hunter, the Alice Springs Reptile Centre’s Rex Neindorf is not far behind. I must admit I was a bit ho-hum when I noticed a visit to the centre on my tour itinerary. But that indifference was quickly quashed once Rex started on his animated gecko spiel. How can you differentiate a boy and girl gecko? What’s the white bit on gecko poo? How can you tell if a gecko has previously thrown its tail? All questions I had never asked – but was interested to hear answers to. (Answers: the boy gecko’s reproductive bits can be seen just above the back legs on the underside; the white part of gecko poo is urine, a moisture-saving measure for their desert environment; and changes in skin patterns denote new growth).
And then the surprising snake safety lecture. In a land reputed to harbour some of the world’s most scary serpents apparently it’s almost impossible to die from snake bite. Pardon? According to Rex, who also acts as an official local snake collector, as long as you venture out into snake territory with shoes and long pants, your safety is virtually guaranteed. The reason? Australia’s “joe blakes” are a small-fanged lot, around .5 to 1cm in length, not long enough to penetrate shoes or clothes. They also have poor eyesight, so a startled human should just stay still to avoid an attack – or quietly back away making sure not to fall over anything in the process.
Another factor working in favour of the Aussie viper victims? The venom doesn’t get into the blood stream, it affects the lymph system. So as long as a bite is appropriately treated, including being wrapped in a bandage, the venom is slow acting. You have longer to live than you think, probably more than enough time to reach medical help. Reassuring, but I fear I will still bolt if confronted by a death adder and hot tail it to medical help if bitten.