Tony Kilmurray with Mr Brown.
Tony Kilmurray with Mr Brown.

Respect speaks with forked tongue

The venomous snake is over 7ft long, weighs just under two kilos and is called Mr Brown by his rehabilitator, Tony Kilmurray, who says he has a lot of respect for his charge.

“Ooooh yeah, and he’s earned every bit of it,” Tony said.

Mr Brown is one of 13 brown snakes that have been in Tony’s care and were used in a WIRES training course for snake-handlers. Over the next few days they will all be released near where they were found.

Tony is a WIRES reptile carer who specialises in looking after poisonous snakes. He has built outdoor snake enclosures on his Teven property and indoor heated enclosures. He says you can’t take too much care when you’re dealing with poisonous snakes. He should know; in 10 years of caring for snakes Tony has never been bitten.

“I check every time I go into one of the enclosures; I’ve seen them in the boxes, trees – you have to be aware of where they are,” he said. “They’re that quick. All they want to do is hide but they’re like you or me – if they feel attacked then they’ll defend themselves. If you stir them up that’s what will happen and they’re lightning quick.”

So why care for a creature many people find downright scary?

“I’ve liked snakes all my life, they’re awesome,” Tony said. “I’d rather talk to a brown snake than most people, to tell the truth.

“I’d certainly rather catch one than a goanna. With a snake all you have to worry about is the pointy end but with goannas they’re so hard to catch because you have to worry about the claws, the tail and the mouth.

“No-one else likes them and they’re really smart. I get real satisfaction when I’ve been rehabbing them for months and can finally let them go.”

Julie Curtis, a reptile specialist with Northern Rivers Wildlife Carers, also loves snakes.

“They’re underdogs, they get a really hard time from humans and I go for the underdogs,” Julie said. “Humans are very quick to kill a snake; they like the cute and cuddly animals but snakes terrify them and bring fear because they don’t understand. The reaction from a fear base is to kill without asking questions.

“Snake season is upon us, all snakes come out of hibernation and they are looking for their mates, or they’ve come out and mated, and they’re looking for water or feed.

“In February or March babies are usually hatched and born around that time.

“I’m a more emotional person and I do have an attachment if an animal is in care for a long time. If it’s short term then you get them in and out back to the wild and try not bond but if you’re giving them intensive care for a long time you do form an attachment.

“It’s all in your heart, all the things you’ve done for an animal to heal it and help it live on.

“Snakes have a place in this world and have every right to be here.”

Tony gets calls to come and pick up injured snakes for all sorts of reasons but the main ones are dog and cat attacks, orchard netting (they get part of the way in and then get caught in the wire and twist and turn) and being run over by a car.

“Snakes that have been run over don’t have a good chance and usually have to be euthanased. We think Mr Brown was attacked by a dog – lucky dog,” he said. “If someone calls with an injured snake, I’m in there with bells on, I love it.

“I’ve rescued a green tree snake from a toilet, because they chase green tree frogs in there.

“Snakes turn up in the oddest places, anywhere you can think of.”

Julie said she has a healthy respect for all reptiles.

“Every time I catch a brown my heart pumps, my adrenaline goes sky high,” she said. “Once I’ve caught the snake and bagged it, everything settles down. If you lose the fear when catching snakes that’s when you’ll get bitten.

“They’re the second deadliest snake in the world – one slight wrong move and you’re in trouble.

“Even though they’re not venomous I’ve been bitten by a carpet python, they’ve got needle-sharp teeth and it means a lot of blood.”

After Tony has captured an injured serpent, he does an assessment with the help of WIRES reptile co-ordinator Michael McGrath to see whether he needs to get the vet. Tony has worked closely with Lennox Head vet Evan Kosack for the time he has been working with reptiles. If the snake has an open wound then it is put into the heated enclosures until it has shed its skin so Tony can see that the damage has healed. After healing the snake is moved to the outdoor enclosure until it is time to release it.

Tony gives the snakes their injections of antibiotics himself, with a little help from Michael sometimes.

“I do have a grid reference here by the phone so if I have to call the helicopter they’ll know where to come and I keep compression bandages with me all the time. If you get bitten you’ve got to move quick,” he said.

Julie said there are important protocols if you find an injured reptile.

“Do not give any injured animal water or food,” she said. “If you see a snake, leave it alone. Given the chance to escape, all snakes will – but if they feel threatened in any way they will stick up for themselves in the only way they know, that’s to bite. Most people bitten by snakes are trying to catch them or corner them.

“Leave them be. They do us a favour by eating rats and mice. Have some respect, keep your distance, we are all God’s creatures.”

Tony has learned an enormous amount about snakes in the time he’s been caring for them. He says colour is not necessarily a good indicator of species.

“Recently I saw a black brown snake, it was glossy black all over, only the head was brown, so you could have easily thought it was a black snake,” he said. “They come in all flavours – they’re awesome.

“Birds and possums and all that fuzzy stuff, that’s great, but this is full-on. You’ve go to be prepared and if you get bitten deal with it straight away.”

Both WIRES and NR Wildlife Carers are always looking for volunteers. For more information email the Northern Rivers branch of WIRES on For Northern Rivers Wildlife Carers call 6628 1866.

If you find an injured animal check the emergency numbers in The Echo classifieds or call the WIRES hotline on 6628 1898.

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