THE increase in encounters with snakes and other wild animals in Johor over the last year has prompted the state’s Fire and Rescue Department to focus its attention on training and equipping its personnel to handle such incidents.
According to the department, at least four to five encounters with snakes were recorded daily, besides incidents involving other wild animals.
This has brought the total number of cases to 3,429 until the end of August this year, compared to 2,877 incidents the whole of last year.
The department attributes the increase in these sightings and encounters to the movement control order (MCO) since the start of the year, which has seen many people turn to gardening and farming in urban and semi-urban areas.
In view of this, the department has been training new recruits as well as retraining firefighters and relevant staff on handling wildlife.
Assigned with the task is its wild animal training instructor Noramey Halim, who is also an expert in catching snakes.
The 31-year-old said he had volunteered to handle snakes since developing a fascination for the reptile shortly after joining the department in 2013.
“My first posting was in Gemas, Negri Sembilan, where I had to handle all kinds of snakes.
“I made it a point to learn about each species and whether they were venomous or not.
“I was initially terrified of snakes, but somehow that fear turned into interest.
“Two years later, I was tasked with training others in how to handle snakes,” he recalled.
The father of three said he later requested for a transfer to Johor Baru, where he has been stationed since 2019.
With 157 snake species in Malaysia, Noramey has handled all kinds of emergencies involving these slithery serpents.
The most important thing to remember is to always stay calm as snakes have the ability to sense fear in humans, he shared.
“Snakes are very sensitive to their surroundings, and any sudden movement will be treated as a threat.
“When you hold a snake, it can sense your heartbeat so it knows if you are afraid.
“After handling a case, I would usually give a short briefing to the caller on the type of snake they encountered.
“When one encounters a snake, make sure there is a safe distance and then call the Fire and Rescue Department immediately,” advised Noramey, who has not been bitten by the reptile.
Recalling his experiences, he said the largest snake he had ever seen was a 6.1m python that had recently devoured a goat in Negri Sembilan.
“Usually, we would send out a team of at least 10 people when dealing with a python.
“This is because of its ability to use constriction to subdue and kill a person if it manages to squeeze their neck, and its fangs can sever blood vessels and muscles.
“As for venomous snakes, there is no need for too many handlers, although the venom contains lethal neurotoxins that must be dealt with extreme caution,” he explained.
Noramey said tools such as snake hooks, tongs and poles were used by the department when handling or catching snakes.
As for snakebite victims, he stressed that they should seek immediate medical help at the nearest government hospital.
According to him, most snake attacks in the state involve the king cobra, spitting cobra or monocled spitting cobra.
The department is currently working closely with the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) and Intermediate Workshop on Snakebite Enveno-mation Management (SEM) director Dr Ahmad Khaldun Ismail to train firefighters.
Johor Fire and Rescue Department director Datuk Yahaya Madis said training sessions were conducted regularly as firefighters were constantly exposed to the risk of getting attacked by venomous or dangerous animals.
“Apart from having the right tools for rescue operations, they are also required to wear personal protective gear, especially when dealing with snakes.
“The department handles the majority of cases itself unless there are incidents where we need feedback from Perhilitan or other relevant departments.”
Yahaya pointed out that while providing “humanitarian” service was not part of the department’s job scope, it was doing so to better protect the public.
“Over the years, we have not only received reports of human encounters with venomous animals, but also with wildlife such as monkeys, wild boars and monitor lizards.
“So our training centre ensures that fire and rescue personnel are equipped with the proper training and knowledge of what needs to be done when in such a situation,” he said.
There are a total of 1,183 fire and rescue personnel placed at 33 stations across Johor.
Yahaya said the department had also recorded an increase in the number of cases involving poisonous insects this year.
There were 1,184 cases recorded up to late last month, compared to 1,114 cases throughout last year, he revealed.