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Snakes loose in the UK! More scaremongering from the press and the real story behind the headlines.

Updated: Sep 8, 2023

This morning on ITV Rylan and Gok Wan presented a piece about "Snakes on the loose in Britain". A scare mongering item suggesting that the UK is crawling with escaped pet snakes. They had a snake professional on the show who though had a good go at showing some beautiful and harmless snakes, unfortunately gave out some incorrect information including the notion that adders are common in this country (which they are not) along with an often quoted but incorrect rhyme for identifying the difference between deadly coral snakes and the harmless but similar-looking milk snake, while the presenters Rylan and Gok Wan made a huge show of how terrifying it must be for people living in the UK right now. They even cited an occurrence of a woman finding a snake in her bed, which any reptile keeper out there will tell you is the number one urban myth that we hear (the woman waking to find a snake in her bed sizing her up to eat her).


The important thing to know is that snakes are NOT infesting the streets, roaming freely, or causing an issue to anyone and this scaremongering has to stop- It isn't even a newsworthy story!


For some context, here are some recent statistics regards dogs and cats, vs snakes in terms of numbers showing up in UK rescues, attacks on people and wildlife:


1.2 million cats, and 664,000 dogs go into shelters each year (RSPCA report, 2022) vs less than 1000 reptiles (including less than 400 snakes) were admitted to the National Centre For Reptile Welfare (the UK’s largest reptile rescue centre and network) in 2022. Of those, only 81 were escaped pets, and just 25 were snakes.



The number of dog attacks on humans recorded by police in England and Wales has risen by more than a third in the past five years, a BBC investigation has found. Last year, there were nearly 22,000 cases of out-of-control dogs causing injury to humans. In 2018, there were just over 16,000. Between 2001 and 2021, 69 individual deaths were registered as being caused by a dog bite or strike. (BBC, 2023).


Cat bites are the second most common animal bite after dog bites, accounting for 5-15% of all animal bite wounds in the UK (NICE.org.uk)


The most recent figures of how many creatures are killed by cats are from the Mammal Society. They estimate that cats in the UK catch in the order of 92 million prey items over spring and summer, of which around 27 million are birds. This is the number of prey items which were known to have been caught. We don't know how many more the cats caught, but didn't bring home, or how many escaped but subsequently died. (RSPB, 2023).


Only 321 snake bite cases registered in the last 10 years (an average of 32 a year) only one resulted in a human death (Clinical Toxicology, 2022)- it should be noted that all of these cases were from captive snakes, in captive situations- not loose snakes wandering the streets, of which there are zero reported cases of serious or venomous bites occurring. Journalists and news outlets such as Time Out and The Guardian as well as ITV, have however taken this information and bastardised it to create scare pieces and get more clicks/views online.


The statistics show that dogs and cats pose far higher risk to human health, wildlife and ecosystems than a mere handful of escaped, harmless pet snakes, yet the press are relentless in their ongoing witch-hunt against snakes and pet reptiles in general.



The damage this kind of scaremongering journalism does to the responsible reptile keeping hobby and even professionals such as ourselves as professional reptile handlers and educators here at Reptiles Etc is severe, and just gives extreme animals rights activists and organisations such as the RSPCA more fodder in their campaigns to ban reptiles in the UK when there is no science or data to support such a move. From education to conservation and even as therapy animals, reptiles in the UK hold more benefit than not and need to be protected.


We would like to invite you to join us calling out TV, media and journalists for sharing articles such as this by writing in to complain and by flagging it in the comments sections. Help us educate on the merits of all the animals in the natural world, protect our native reptiles here in the UK and preserve our right to keep pet reptiles as wonderful companion and therapy animals and education ambassadors that they are.



We would like to invite both Rylan and Gok to face their fears beat their phobias by getting to know some of our snakes in a safe and controlled environment with our phobia coaching programme, and help us in the fight to challenge misconceptions and change the bad reputations of these misunderstood animals so unjustly have.



To learn more about the real statistics behind lost and rehome reptiles in the UK, to report a snake sighting or rescue, go here: https://www.ncrw.co.uk/


Te find out more about the statistics of pet reptiles in the UK and how you can defend the reptile keeping hobby, go here: https://www.thefbh.org/


To learn more about responsible pet reptile keeping, go here: https://responsiblereptilekeeping.org/


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2 Comments


jonathan.hawthorne82
Sep 08, 2023

Can you please let us know where you got your statistics. To my knowledge we don’t have rabis in the UK and I’d find it hard to share this in defence. If it is just spreading more inaccurate news

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reptilesetc
Sep 08, 2023
Replying to

Hi Jonathan, thanks so much for bringing this to my attention- you are indeed correct and though I endevoured to fact check and reference all the statistics as best I could, the cat/rabies one unfortuantely (and much to my embarrasment!) slipped through the net and was actually an American statistic- I have found the most up to date UK cat bite stats I can from nice.org.uk and amended the article appropriately as I couldn't agree with you more- the last thing I want to do is spread innaccuracies. If you happen to know of or come by a more up to date source for this do please send me a link. Thanks again for your comment.

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