Cameron Hodges: Using radio-telemetry to better understand how a highly venomous snake lives among people

In this Q&A, we ask author Cameron Hodges about his team’s research monitoring the behaviour of a Malayan krait near a university dormitory in Thailand, and find out a little bit more about the author himself.

Go to: The research | The bigger picture | About the Author

The research

What’s your article about?

Our article provides a detailed description of the observed movements, habitat use, and behaviours exhibited by a highly venomous snake (Malayan krait) which shared space closely with humans at a university student dormitory complex in northeast Thailand. The data used in the paper was taken from a larger Malayan krait spatial ecology study, and was intended to demonstrate how these highly cryptic and potentially dangerous snakes behave among a densely populated residential area.

Malayan krait moving along the edge of the backside of a dormitory building

The study highlights the potential for conflicts to arise between kraits and humans, and in the article we provide suggestions drawn from the snake’s behaviour and habits in attempt to help minimize the chances of snakebites from occurring.

What is the background behind your article?

Malayan kraits are responsible for the most snakebite mortalities in Thailand, with the majority (ca. 70%) occurring within the northeast region of the country. Many of the bites are known to occur to victims while within homes during the night. Despite this, no studies have examined the movements and behaviour or Malayan kraits among residential areas in attempt to gain useful information for conflict prevention.

Furthermore, based on our experiences with locals of Nakhon Ratchasima province, we have found that there are concerning knowledge gaps about this species, with few knowing of this species or whether or not it is venomous. Additionally, it appears that locals familiar with this species are often under the impression that it is quite rare and only occurs in pristine evergreen forests.

Why is it important?

Bettering our understanding of how animals live among human-modified landscapes is vital for conservation, as natural areas are being lost and degraded rapidly. Additionally, it is also important to study venomous snakes living among humans in tropical developing countries, as snakebite is a major public health problem which afflicts more than 2 million people globally each year.

Malayan krait crossing a sidewalk in the middle of the dormitory complex shortly after sunset

Understanding how medically significant venomous snakes live among humans in regions most afflicted by snakebite will allow us to better develop snakebite prevention strategies. One of the best ways to do this is through the use of radio-telemetry to study the movements, behaviour, and natural history of free-ranging snakes.

Did you have any problems setting up the experiment/gathering your data?

Most of the issues I experienced in my study were related to either the low detection rates, which resulted in a small sample size, and problems commonly associated with using smaller radio-transmitters (i.e. short battery life, reduced signal range, and increased chance of premature failures).

Where you surprised by anything when working on it?

I was surprised how much time most of the Malayan kraits I tracked remained in settlement habitat despite having forested areas available.

What are the key messages of your research?

The telemetered Malayan krait in our study predominately sheltered and foraged among student dormitories, despite being captured and translocated to an adjacent forest on two occasions. Our observations highlight considerable potential for conflicts to occur, along with the need for education programs and implementation of prevention strategies.

Information posters (snake ID, snakebite prevention suggestions, and snakebite first aid) we posted at each student dormitory on SUT campus

The bigger picture

What does your work contribute to the field?

My study provides needed insight into the natural history and behaviour of an urban adapted nocturnal elapid from Southeast Asia.

Does this article raise any new research questions?

Malayan krait preying on golden tree snake inside university building

Yes, in attempt to better understand why the kraits use settlements so frequently, I would like to know whether prey abundance is higher among settlements than in the remaining less-disturbed areas on the university campus.

What is the broader impact of your article?

Findings from my research on Malayan kraits in human-dominated landscapes may also help build our understanding of how other active foraging snakes live among humans in the tropics. Behaviours exhibited by Malayan kraits may be similar to other urban adapted krait species, including the common krait (Bungarus caeruleus), which is responsible for many snakebite deaths in South Asia.

Who should read your article?

This article will be especially important for building/land managers and snake-human conflict mitigation teams (i.e. “snake rescuers” and snake education teams), as they would be able to implement and disseminate the suggestions made to help facilitate safe coexistence between humans and venomous snakes.

About the Author

How did you get involved in ecology?

I have been passionate about wildlife (especially reptiles) for as long as I can remember, and by the age of 16 I had decided I wanted to become a herpetologist. While working towards my bachelor’s degree at Oklahoma State University, I got involved with some cool lizard ecology studies and I absolutely loved it, affirming that I wanted to make a career in ecology.

What are you currently working on?

I recently defended my master’s thesis at Suranaree University of Technology in Thailand. I am currently trying to figure out where I will go next and what I want to do for a PhD, while simultaneously finishing writing manuscripts covering findings from my study on Malayan krait spatial ecology, and holding some snake-human conflict mitigation training programs in both Thailand and Laos.

Sharing information gained from our study with dormitory heads, land managers, and the Director of Student Wellness to increase student safety

What is the best and worst thing about being an ecologist?

I enjoy the work associated with conservation education. I am passionate about helping change people’s perceptions of snakes through bettering their understanding of their behaviour and their importance. One of the worst parts is definitely continually seeing snakes that died as a result of human activities (especially direct persecutory killings).

Group photo of rescue teams post finishing intensive snake-human conflict mitigation training course.

What do you do in your spare time?

I enjoy watching movies and series, or listening to audio-books to relax.

Some more photos from the author:

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Read the full research: “Deadly dormmate: A case study on Bungarus candidus living among a student dormitory with implications for human safety” in Issue 2:1 of Ecological Solutions and Evidence.

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