Learning to share bike paths with Canberra’s reptiles

25 May 23 | By pp-admin

Canberra’s shared paths are enjoyed by walkers, cyclists, and even the occasional sunbathing snake. It is this occasional snake that can leave a lasting impression, often due to ‘ophidiophobia’ the common human condition of having an overwhelming fear of snakes.

How to deal with these snake encounters while cycling was the topic of the May Social Evening talk, delivered by licensed snake catcher Gavin Smith.

Originally from Scotland, Gavin is an Associate Professor of Sociology at ANU, but his fascination with snakes has lead him to start ACT Snake Removals. As well as removing and rescuing snakes from unwanted location, he also collects valuable scientific information to increase the knowledge of these little-understood reptiles.

On the presentation night, most of our Pedal Power audience agreed to not liking snakes, and most reported at least one snake encounter in the last year while cycling.

But Gavin encouraged us to view these encounters from a very different perspective. Snakes pose little risk and would prefer to slither rapidly away from us. From a snake’s point of view, its first form of defence is to move away from danger, only resorting to striking if it is provoked or cornered.

Keeping your distance and staying still is the easiest way to avoid a bite.

Gavin is one of only a handful of people in the Capital licensed to handle venomous snakes. As owner of ACT Snake Removals, he has caught, removed and released around 200 snakes from a wide variety of locations, in the last year alone.

Gavin highlighted that while we know very little about these remarkable animals, snakes are a particularly persecuted species. Many of the reptiles he has caught had been injured, with around 70% of them bearing signs of having sustained an injury during their lives.

Gavin also highlighted that it is important for snakes to be respected and cared for, as they have been for thousands of years by the Ngunnawal people. As a nod towards these values, Snake laws are currently being reconsidered in the ACT to promote education efforts, with a motion in March this year, calling for regulation, protection and education on local venomous snakes presented to the ACT legislative assembly.

Canberra is home to 8 species of snakes, they are shy, non-aggressive and will quickly retreat – if given a chance. The Eastern Brown snake is most frequently seen, with the Red-Bellied Black and Tiger snakes seen only occasionally. Snakes are most active in Spring and Summer, when they sun themselves and move around, often basking on bike paths or lazing around in underpasses.

As Canberra’s population rises, and we happily pedal its paths, it is helpful for us to know more and understand about our native snakes.

As a broader perspective, in Australia’s population of 26million, it is estimated that each year there are approximately 3,000 snakebites, with approximately 2 or 3 deaths. In Canberra if you are unlucky enough to be bitten by a venomous snake – we have good access to antivenom at both The Canberra Hospital and Calvary Hospital with the cost of antivenom covered by Medicare.

The Key points of Safety –

Avoiding a Snake Bite

  • When you see a snake – Stop at a safe distance, stay still, and be patient until the snake moves off.
  • Be alert, especially in the early morning when snakes are more likely to be sunning themselves.
  • Avoid walking through long grass.
  • Avoid putting your hand into hollow logs or rock crevices.
  • Keep pets away from snakes and lizards.

If bitten by a Snake

  • Stay still, do not move. Muscle movement will move venom around the body.
  • Apply a firm pressure bandage to the bitten area then bandage the limb from the fingers or toes in a spiral up to the armpit or groin.
  • If possible, splint the limb with a branch or similar, to prevent movement.
  • Call an ambulance.


  • Carry a pressure bandage as part of your first aid kit.

Remember that snakes do not want to be near us and they play a vital role in keeping down the numbers of introduced rats and mice. Snakes are protected by law across Australia and may not be killed unless they threaten life. So, let’s take a moment to appreciate Australia’s wealth of beautiful snakes.

Support Gavin‘s research on ‘Tracking the movement of brown snakes in Australia’.