Infested Farm Fields Lead to Increase in Poisonous Snake Bites

Poisonous snakes are increasingly being driven into rice and cassava fields as their forest habitat is leveled in Banteay Meanchey province, leading to an increase in bites among farmers and their families, provincial officials said on Thursday.

Improved health care and better community education, however, have led to a drop in the number of deaths caused by bites of cobras, vipers and other poisonous snakes in rural areas of the province, officials said.

In Thma Puok and Svay Chek districts, there were 23 cases of poisonous snake bites among farmers in the past six weeks, a steep increase from the average of five cases per month, said Pin Chhul, head of the Thma Puok district health office.

Many of the bites occurred in the dark as farmers made their way to or from their farms and accidentally stepped on snakes, which are nocturnal and hunt for their food at night, Mr. Chhul said.

Overall, however, the number of poisonous bites has risen only slightly, from 269 in the first nine months of last year to 281 in the first nine months of this year, said Roeun Sothy, chief of the technical bureau at the provincial referral hospital in Serei Saophoan City.

Although the number of reported snake bites increased, no one has died of a poisonous bite this year, he said, crediting efforts to educate farmers about the need for immediate first aid and quick transport to a hospital.

Last year, two people died due to snake bites “because they were so late to bring them to get treatment at the hospital,” Dr. Sothy said.

Farmers have been trained in community forums to reduce bites by wearing long boots in their fields, refraining from walking in fields at night and paying attention to the potential presence of poisoning snakes, he said. Getting treatment within two hours of being bitten increases survival rates, he said.

“We advise the community that if the snake bites anyone, just rush and bring the victim to the hospital,” Dr. Sothy said.

The loss of 10,000 hectares of protected forest, a natural habitat for snakes, from farmers clearing the land for cassava farming has contributed to the snake infestation in their fields, said Diep Chuon, the governor of Thma Puok district.

“Those snakes have no shelter, so they come to live in the village and some live in the cassava farms,” he said. “If those people do not clear the land, the snakes won’t come to live in the village and the cassava farm at all.”

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