Cold blooded compassion


Cold blooded compassion

words Heidi HELBIG
PHOTOGRAPHY pete thornton
>> Dan Marshall of Barossa Reptile Service

Dan Marshall has a few loves in his life, but it’s not quite what you think.

“Indie, she’s an absolute sweetheart,” says Dan, referring to the 2.5 metre long Murray Darling carpet python curled up in his backyard shed.

“I put her to work and she comes with me to schools and businesses. When you’re talking about venomous snakes, having a nice, big, friendly python calms people’s nerves and helps with the stigma.”

As the owner of Barossa Reptile Service at Nuriootpa and a breeder himself, Dan is passionate about reframing the reputation of these native animals as public enemy number one.

From his early years watching Steve Irwin to professional filming for Aussie Snake Wranglers, Dan remains “intrigued” by venomous snakes and is passionate about educating the community.

“The biggest thing is understanding snakes don’t want to get you, chase you or try and attack you,” says Dan.

“I always like to tell people they are defensive, not aggressive, because that’s literally what it is, a threat display.

“Brown snakes are potentially lethal, but if you leave them alone, they’re potentially harmless.

“A lot of the time they move on and that’s the best outcome for everyone in that situation.”

Dan is genuinely empathetic to their plight, as snakes are increasingly displaced to make way for development, leading to more human-to-snake interactions. 

“They get into some weird places – most of the time it’s getting away from people and pets, especially in the Barossa where vineyard and paddocks have been removed for houses,” says Dan.

Those ‘weird’ places include service stations, car engines, camper trailers, weight scales, septic tanks and even a winery urinal.

“A couple (of) weeks ago I caught an eastern brown on a roof, popping out of the capping,” says Dan.

“While they are classed as terrestrial and don’t go out of their way to climb, if they’ve got to or want to, they can.”

As a father and pet owner himself, Dan takes his responsibility for licensed snake removal seriously and will never compromise safety. In fact, he’s been known to spend four hours waiting for the right moment to safely retrieve a snake.

“You’ll see some snake catchers grab snakes and carry on like a pork chop, which gets snakes fired up even more,” Dan says.

“I’m nice and calm and even when I have them by the tail, I’ll let them go into the bag themselves.

“I don’t film myself unless the snake is self-contained and I don’t put anything at risk to get a photo or video, but I do find it important to show snake behaviour and give people insight into the real situation.

“I don’t try to change people’s minds, to make them like snakes or love them like I do, but just get people to understand them – that’s my job in a way.”

“I don’t try to change people’s minds, to make them like snakes or love them like I do, but just get people to understand them – that’s my job in a way.”

- Dan Marshall

Notwithstanding his empathy for snakes, Dan certainly doesn’t underestimate them, and says everyone should have a first aid kit and snake bite kit at hand.

“Like humans, different species have different levels of intelligence. Yes, they’re instinctive, but they’re a lot more switched on than people think,” says Dan.

“You’ve always got to make sure you’re on your game; it can take a split second of not concentrating and that could be the (moment they) bite.

“I won’t lie, I’ve had some close calls, and if I’m bitten it’s my mistake.

“But I’ve never been bitten by a venomous snake and I don’t plan to be – I take pride in that.”

Dan, who is also a carpenter by trade, keeps as many as 30 snakes at home for breeding and wholesale sales, ranging from baby browns to red belly blacks and Tiger snakes.

“I like keeping them and getting to understand their behaviour – they all have very different personalities,” says Dan.

With the right conditions including temperature control and plenty of water, Dan says snakes are long-lived and make great pets.

“They’re mostly hands-off and compared to a dog or cat, extremely cheap to keep,” says Dan. “As long as you have good interactions with it, a snake will be one of the most loyal pets you’ll have.”

For those out in nature, Dan’s parting advice to local residents is to be alert, but not alarmed.

“The fear around snakes is not warranted…More people die from lightning strikes, bee stings or getting trampled by stock,” he says.

“The likelihood of dying from a snake is very, very slim and even slimmer if you leave them alone.”

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