Matt Hagan has hands full with this scrub python. Picture: Cairns Snake Catcher
Matt Hagan has hands full with this scrub python. Picture: Cairns Snake Catcher

Your next career: Inside the life of a snake catcher

These are some of Queensland's hunter gatherers who risk their lives to catch and relocate snakes.

They've been bitten on the crotch, hands and legs and have come close to death.

In the digital age their tales of catching snakes longer than your arm are all documented in photos and videos.

We've asked them about trials and tribulations of trapping and catching and relocating snakes as a way of making a buck.

The majority of snakes are freed within a kilometre or two of where they were caught to ensure they are familiar with the area and the food supply, but it also means they could be back.

Tony Harrison: Gold Coast Snake Catcher (Gold Coast and Brisbane)

The veteran of the group, Tony Harrison spent six months as a volunteer reptile keeper at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary in the early 90s before he started working professionally as a snakecatcher in 1994.

Across three decades he has relocated more than 18,000 reptiles and there have been hundreds if not thousands of snakes in excess of 2m.

Tony Harrison with a 1.9m eastern brown.
Tony Harrison with a 1.9m eastern brown.

The biggest one he caught - on camera - was a 3.3m carpet python, at Warrington Road, Bongo.

There have been bigger slippery customers but it's only in the past eight years, mainly because of the digital age, that Mr Harrison has been taking photos and videos of his catches and relocations.

Harrison's wife Brooke with a big catch. Picture: Gold Coast Snake Catcher
Harrison's wife Brooke with a big catch. Picture: Gold Coast Snake Catcher

"The biggest eastern brown I ever caught was on Castle Hill Drive, Gaven. It was 2.3m long and weighed 3.99kg but vomited up an adult rat soon after being weighed.

"Do I have photos? No and don't I wish I did."

The biggest red belly black he caught and relocated was "a genuine 5-foot but very thick" at Paradise Point.

Tony Harrison after a snake bite in 2006.
Tony Harrison after a snake bite in 2006.

As for the dangers of the job, he's been hospitalised six times and has come close to death twice.

"Sixteen years ago one fang of an Eastern brown went through the bag and clipped my finger and made the tiniest dot of blood you've ever seen," he said.

"Ten minutes later I was in hospital and within two hours I was not expected to come back … After 10 vials of anti-venom and I was home in 24 hours. Although I survived the bite, it has had lasting effects on me since."

It's now a family affair for Mr Harrison who met his snake catching partner Brooke six years ago and they and they now have a three-and-half-year old son who is as fascinated about reptiles as they are.

Matt Hagan: Cairns Snake Catcher (Cairns and northern beaches)

Having worked in crocodile management for 15 years, becoming a snake catcher seemed the obvious progression for Matt Hagan.

Constantly called upon to for help and guidance by family and friends when they came across a snake, Mr Hagan made the transition from crocs to snakes about five years ago.

He has a degree in applied science, majoring in aquaculture, and has worked with a large variety of aquatic and terrestrial animals.

"Working with crocodiles I tended to become the go-to person for other reptiles and the assumption was, if you can catch a crocodile, you can catch a snake," Mr Hagan said.

"I realised there was a bit of a market there because there are a lot of snakes in Cairns."

The biggest snake he has had to remove was a 5.9m scrub python that weight 30kg and had parked itself at an animal refuge at Litchfield.

His worst encounter was when a 5.5m scrub python bit him on the crotch and wouldn't let go.

He wasn't able to find the crotch-biting snake photos in his 'shame' file, but he said the only saving grace about the close encounter with his manhood was that it was not poisonous.

He had just to see out the excruciating pain until it let go.

"We have lots of them (scrub pythons) up here and every now and then we catch really big ones," he said.

"It latched on and didn't let go.

One of Matt Hagan’s clients came of second best relocating a 5m scrub python. Picture: Cairns Snake Catcher
One of Matt Hagan’s clients came of second best relocating a 5m scrub python. Picture: Cairns Snake Catcher

"It had a lot of teeth and it was big but I was fine because it was not a venomous snake.

"I have never been bitten by a venomous snake and I want to keep it that way. Because they are not venomous you tend to let your guard down with pythons."

He said most call-outs are for snakes inside houses, chicken coups and pet animal enclosures although there some other interesting places.

"I sometimes get calls from people fishing out at the reef with and unwanted reptilian passengers on board … and I have caught snakes in the underpants draw and once in a woman's handbag which she had taken to work."

Stuart McKenzie: The Snakecatcher 24/7 (Sunshine Coast, Deception Bay)

Started working professionally in 2013 and has a team of professional handlers on call.

Holding a Bachelor of Science degree in zoology and marine biology, he not only relocates snakes he also has his own reptiles as pets, having kept snakes for 15 years.

There's not a carpet python he doesn't like although there was one occasion when one reptile took offence at Mr McKenzie's line of work and he won't forget the experience in a hurry.

"In January, I caught a massive coastal carpet python and it's the biggest snake I've had to relocate in the Sunshine Coast hinterland area. It was longer than 3.3m and it was hanging out in the backyard," he said.

"The majority of the time carpet pythons are pretty friendly and they are pretty relaxed, but this one was one of the angriest snakes I have come across.

"They don't normally carry on, they are gentle giants, but from the moment I touched him he was just, 'strike, 'strike', 'strike'. He just didn't want to be handled."

Her said he's be bitten a few times on the hand but only by non-venomous snakes.

"I don't have any horror stories to tell and I don't want any to share," he said.

Jamie Chapel: Snake Takeaway and Chapel Pest Control (Townsville)

Jamie Chapel is one of the fresh faces on the catching scene.

He turned a childhood obsession and passion into a professional job a year ago and his biggest catch was a 4m scrub python.

One of Jamie Chapel’s catches. Picture: Snake Takeaway and Chapel Pest Control
One of Jamie Chapel’s catches. Picture: Snake Takeaway and Chapel Pest Control

There have been a number of scrub pythons in excess of 3m but the biggest he had to tackle was taking a rest in a lounge room at Saunders Beach.

He said being bitten was one of the hazards of the line of work although it's never a pleasant experience.

"Being bitten is part of the job and all snake catchers would say that was part of the job," he said

"Venomous wise I've only been bitten once and by the odd python but you learn your lessons and minimise the bites."

Mr Chapel said that because he works on his own, he can't be on either side of the lens when documenting his catches.


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