Issue: 2013 > October > special report

Keeping venomous snakes in the Netherlands: a harmless hobby or a public health threat?

P.J.J. van Genderen, L. Slobbe, H. Koene, R.D.L. Mastenbroek, D. Overbosch


Objective: To describe the incidence of venomous
snakebites and the hospital treatment thereof (if any)
amongst private individuals who keep venomous snakes
as a hobby. Structure: Descriptive study. Method: Private keepers of venomous snakes were invited
via the social media Facebook, Hyves, Twitter, Google Plus, Linked In and two large discussion forums to fill in an online questionnaire on a purely voluntary and anonymous basis. Results: In the period from 1 September 2012 to 31 December 2012, 86 questionnaires were completed by individuals who keep venomous snakes as a hobby. One-third of the venomous snake keepers stated that they had at some point been bitten by a venomous snake. Out of those, two-thirds needed hospital treatment and one-third of those bitten required at least one, sometimes more,
doses of antiserum. The chances of being bitten increased the more venomous snakes a person kept. An inventory of the collections of venomous snakes being kept further revealed that no antiserum exists for 16 of the species, including for the most commonly held venomous snake, the coral cobra. Conclusion: Keeping venomous snakes as a hobby is not without danger. Although in the majority of snakebite cases no antiserum had to be administered, there is nevertheless a significant risk of morbidity and sequelae. Preventing snakebites in the first place remains the most important safety measure since there are no antiserums available for a substantial number of venomous snakes.