“Puff Adder” Vulture (Tag B430)– first vulture in the world to be treated with snake anti – venom

Puff Adder starting to swell
Puff Adder starting to swell

Puff Adder a Cape Vulture (Gyps coprotheres) as he became affectionately known arrived at VulPro on the 5th of November 2010.  He was a grounded fledgling that had got himself into trouble due to bad weather.  This happens so often with young fledgling vultures, gardens, swimming pools, dogs and electric fences can all cause huge problems for young, inexperienced vultures.  They end up on the ground without enough space or possibly strength to take off again, left alone they die.

VulPro rushed out and rescued him, taking him back to VulPro to be fattened up a bit and grow stronger, before being tagged and released. “Puff Adder” had been at VulPro a couple of weeks when on the 27th of November 2010, Kerri arrived back at VulPro with an electrocuted vulture (Read Sizzle’s story here) to find Puff Adder screaming in agony and running backwards in his enclosure.

He was quickly caught and inspected, with a single puncture wound being discovered on his neck.  Kerri and her team suspected a snake bite, although the snake was never seen and apart from screaming from shock and / or pain, Puff Adder showed no other symptoms yet.

Kerri rushed Puff Adder to the Exotic Animal Clinic at Onderstepoort to be treated by Dr Francois Le Grange.  By now Puff Adder had started to swell, a huge concern was that his throat would swell so much that he wouldn’t be able to breathe.  Oxygen was administered and Puff Adder was also put on a drip.

Interesting Fact:

The Puff Adder (Bitus arietans) is responsible for causing the most snakebite fatalities in Africa owing to various factors, such as its wide distribution, frequent occurrence in highly populated regions, and aggressive disposition.  It is a sluggish snake that relies on camouflage for protection, most bites occur because the snake is stepped on.  The Puff Adder bite is severely cytotoxic (kills cells) and is responsible for severe pain and swelling leading to tissue necrosis.

Puff Adder
Puff Adder

After a lot of careful thought, it was decided to treat Puff Adder with anti-venom.  This had never before been done with a vulture, and both Kerri and Dr Francois Le Grange had no idea whether it would help or hurt Puff Adder, they just knew that they had to do something or he would die.  His symptoms were worsening and not being able to breathe was a very real problem.

Two vials of anti-venom were administered to Puff Adder and he thrived! There was no tissue necrosis (dead tissue), within a week the swelling started to go down.

Puff Adder on a drip
Puff Adder on a drip

Puff Adder was in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) at Onderstepoort on a drip for 3 days, to make sure that he was properly hydrated, he then returned to VulPro and was kept in a crate (specialised vulture transport crates) for a few days on a drip to make 100% sure that he was healthy.

One month later, Puff Adder was healthy enough to be tagged and released.  On the 16th of July 2011, Puff adder was resighted feeding on a carcass at Shelanti Game Reserve.  This is the reason that it is so wonderful when people share their resightings of tagged vultures with us.  We add the sightings to our database and it allows us to track these vultures.  We haven’t had any resightings since then, but we are thrilled with the confirmation that Puff Adder was alive a year after his ordeal.

Why is Puff Adder’s story so important?

Living in Africa especially on plots, farm land or in the bush makes sure that wild life becomes a factor in your life – good or bad!  We recommend that you should be aware of and have basic knowledge about the snakes that reside in your area.  We don’t support killing them; rather relocate to a place where human interaction is limited.

It is important for you to know, how poisonous they are, what type of venom they have ie what the symptoms are and how to treat a snake bite.  This is important not only for you and your friends and family but for your pets and livestock as well.  Kerri and Dr Le Grange ensured that Puff Adder experienced minimal damage from the Puff Adder bite because he was treated so quickly.  Left untreated for longer because of the position of the bite it is almost certain that Puff Adder would have died.