Trevor McDonald, the Reptile Wrangler

Trev McDonald
Trevor McDonald, photo by Bridget McDonald

Trev, otherwise known as the Reptile Wrangler, is the go-to snake catcher in the Mansfield district and beyond. In this interview he gives advice, shares snake stories and busts myths. A must-read for anyone, like me, who is afraid of snakes.

What made you decide to become a snake catcher?

When we moved to Barwite about four years ago, a brown snake appeared on our veranda and scared the bejesus out of my wife. I had a pet snake, so I wasn’t afraid of it. I took my snake “stick” and went to find it, although I didn’t know what I was going to do if I caught it. It got away.

Research showed that nobody was snake catching in Mansfield since the previous guy had retired. I decided to take it up.

But snake catching, isn’t a career. With the time taken and the wear and tear on my car, it’s not what you’d call profitable. I do it because I don’t like to kill things. Snakes are part of our natural environment. I provide a service to people in our community who are afraid of snakes – my business is driven by fear. If you grow up in the suburbs and have no experience with snakes, it’s only natural that you have an aversion to them. Some people have an extreme fear, called ophidiophobia. Usually, this is developed in childhood, often caused by well-meaning parents who instill a strong sense of danger.

What is your day job?

I work in inventory management for Whitlands Engineering, otherwise known as Superaxe. We sell firewood processing equipment for the domestic and commercial markets.

How do you manage callouts for the Reptile Wrangler during work hours?

If a snake is in a house, or an area where they can cause harm to people, I leave work. If not, I return the call after hours and if they still want me, I go then.

How do you become a snake catcher?

I did a course with a guy in Melbourne to learn about snake behaviour, where to look for them, how to catch them and what makes them tick. At the end of the session, he sent me out the back to catch a few snakes. It was 18°C in Ringwood, so the snakes were slow and easy to catch.

Within two to three weeks, a brown snake appeared at home. I tried to pin it, but missed. After chasing it around, it got away. The technique was ineffective for a fast-moving snake. I did more research and through trial and error I’ve developed my own approach.

What do you do when you catch them?

My standard response is that I release them on the neighbour’s property, but actually I release them on public land in their natural habitat. According to my licence, this must be within 5km of where I catch it.

What is your success rate?

Snakes are fast, great at evasion and very good at hiding. When people call, I first ask whether they can still see the snake. If they can, I ask them to watch it until I arrive. If they can’t see it, I often try to counsel them out of the callout. Once the snake disappears, they are nearly impossible to find. My wife calls me the snake counsellor, but it’s a waste of my time and their money for me to come out and run around like an idiot.

With eyes-on the snake, my hit rate is about 90%. Without, I often don’t find it and the rate is much lower.

How common are snake bites?

They are not at all common, and are usually a result of standing on a snake or trying to kill it. Given today’s access to medical facilities and with the application of a pressure bandage (including immobilisation), fatalities are rare.

What about in pets?

Dogs, in particular terriers, are at greater risk of bites because a snake will defend itself. If a dog or cat is bitten and you can get to the vet in time, the pet will likely survive, but your bank account will take a hit.

Does Reptile Wrangler have responsibilities apart from catching snakes?

Occasionally I get called out for a lizard, but that is usually a case of mistaken identity.

I also do property inspections. This is usually for newcomers to the district who want to minimize the likelihood of finding snakes on their land.

What advice can you give to make our homes more snake-proof?

To survive, snakes need two things: food and shelter. Take those things away, and you reduce your risk of seeing them.

As a general rule, Brown snakes like mice, so if you have hay or chickens, they will be attracted there. Compost bins and chicken coops should be made mouse and snake proof. They will also eat frogs and small birds.

Tiger snakes are a wetland species and like frogs and fish. You might find them near dams. There’s not much you can do to reduce frogs, but you can minimise their shelter opportunities.

Snakes can’t regulate their body temperature, so they need protection from the elements. They won’t stay in exposed areas. Snakes like hiding under things where wind, rain and direct sunlight can’t reach: hollow logs, rock/rock walls, covered wood piles, tin sheets, and agapanthus – their root systems create burrows. Remove opportunities for shelter around your home and you remove the chance of an encounter.

Can you bust any common snake myths?

Myth: if there are blue tongue lizards, there are no snakes.
Explanation: they aren’t fighting for the same food, so they can coexist.

Myth: Juvenile snakes are less harmful.
Explanation: Their venom is just as potent although their fangs are smaller.

Myth: Snakes can turn on or turn off their venom and choose to give dry bites.
Explanation: Snakes can’t control their venom, but they can expend venom on prey. Hospitals won’t give antivenin until they have signs that venom has been injected.

How will the bushfires impact snakes?

People living close to fire-affected areas might see an increase in snake activity as snakes try to flee. But they probably can’t outrun a fire, so unless they can hide somewhere that protects them from the heat, they will likely perish.

To end, do you have any great snake stories?

One of my first callouts came late at night to a house in Benalla. A red-bellied black snake was in a child’s bedroom. I had to move clothes around with my snake stick to find it, but it had nowhere to escape, so I caught it. The father was ophidiophobic, so he couldn’t even look at it. We figured it must have hidden in one of their bags while they spent the day at Lake Nillahcootie. They must have driven home with it and carried it into the house.

Another time, on a callout to a tiger snake in Merrijig, I had to bring my three kids. After an hour waiting for it to show its head (it was in rockwall), I caught it. I put it in the back of the car and we drove away. Five minutes later, the woman called again. She’d nearly had a heart attack when she saw a second snake. Turns out my 7-year-old had left his rubber snake on the deck. He’d known we were on the way to get a snake, so he took his toy snake with him. We turned around to pick it up.

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Next time: The Winding Narrative Turns Two


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