December 3rd 2003
Death adders aren't everybody's preferred company but for one new Island resident these venomous beasties are one of Magnetic's biggest attractions. And if you ever have the pleasure of an adder for company - in your garden - but would prefer that you didn't, then Eric Vanderduys is your man.
For free Eric is happy to be on call for any Islanders who have a snake problem. If you are worried by a snake's presence then Eric is happy to visit and remove the reptile if required.
Eric carries what is called a Damage Mitigation Permit - issued by Queensland Parks and Wildlife to appropriately trained people. With such a title one might wonder for whom the damage is being mitigated: resident or snake? The answer is probably both - as many locals still find snakes a source of fear and dread sometimes leading them to try and kill snakes which is illegal since all snakes are protected species.
Eric will however remove any snake from anywhere on Magnetic and will do so 7 days per week and at all hours. "So long as I am on the Island at the time" says Eric - he's that keen!
Magnetic Times asked Eric - a naturalist and Batchelor of Science who majored in Zoology and Ecology at the University of Queensland - just what it was about death adders that was so attractive to him. "They're very different to all other venomous Australian native snakes. They are unlike the fast-moving taipans, browns and others because they just sit there. They are convergent with the vipers of Africa and North America with large fangs for their size and a short, stout body and they won't stand up and defend their ground like an eastern brown but they do have this terrifically fast strike if they do decide to bite."
Eric is concerned that, as a species, death adders - which are listed as Rare in Queensland - are losing out. "I think they are undergoing a significant reduction. They were probably devastated by the introduction of cane toads (which death adders will eat, killing both snake and toad) causing their decline, if not extinction, in areas you would normally have expected them to have survived. You would rarely ever see one around Townsville these days" said Eric. Which raises the mystery of why the adders - which Eric believes would number several thousand on Magnetic Island - are prevalent here in spite of the cane toads. That is something Eric considers a mystery and something well worth researching but suspects it may have something to do with the relatively few ponded waters on the Island where cane toads can breed. Cane toads may also not be surviving in sufficient numbers on the hot dry rocky slopes of the Island's interior to affect the adder population which is often enc ountered in these areas.
Eric has been on the Island with his partner, Megan Absolon, a materials conservator at the Museum of Tropical Queensland, since November 2003. His last job, which is partly ongoing, was providing bio-diversity management plans to Brisbane Airport which Eric found to be a fascinating challenge in itself finding many birds and reptiles dependent on the land reserved for the landing of very big birds.
Eric is keen to continue his work in the north and is able to advise land owners on how best to preserve what wildlife and bio-diversity exists on land where development is planned.
His first love however is snakes and reptiles generally, though birds and spiders follow close behind. He is however a little hesitant to say how often he himself has been on the wrong end of a snake's fangs but admits to a couple of punctures but never from a snake he was removing from a house. In fact Eric's hand was turned into something approaching a sieve when he grabbed a 16 foot scrub python off the Palmerston highway before a truck was about to run it over. The large, many-toothed but non-venomous python was clearly unimpressed by Eric's valour and repaid him with a mouthful.
If you have a snake you are concerned about in your garden, Eric advises that, until he arrives, someone should keep watch on the reptile's location. "Mostly they are harmless tree snakes and pythons and which will readily move away" says Eric, "But death adders will tend to remain in the same spot - sometimes for days at a time. Either way, it's a lot easier if people can show me where the snake is when I arrive!"
Eric can be contacted on 04 3733 0961.