Shame file


Recent safety breaches in the form of fatal or life threatening snakebites involving government licenced snake handlers, their staff or worse still members of the public at their “demonstrations”.


Below are some of a number of recent venomous snake bites that were life threatening
(defined here as requiring, a rushed trip to hospital in an ambulance and/or Anti-venom) or fatal, that involved licenced reptile demonstrators, members of the public at their events and similar.


Various dates – John Deutscher,  has in a few short years had several serious bites from Death Adders requiring hasty trips to hospital and anti-venom.  In spite of numerous safety breaches, he’s still licenced to handle snakes by the DSE Victoria.


2009 (December) – Bob Withey, a NSW-licenced demonstrator, who also operates in Melbourne, was bitten by a Tiger snake during a snake show. He was rushed to hospital in a helicopter, where he had anti-venom and survived. His handling display had also breached "Reg 5" and "Reg 11" in the "Occupational Health and Safety Regulation 2001" (see also "Occupational Health and Safety Act 2000"), for which the penalty for a breach is listed as $82,500 and/or two years jail, (Sect. 12). The people who allowed the (illegal) display to take place were liable for similar fines and penalties.


March 2010 – 8 Snakebites in 8 days! 3 "victims" were so-called snake handlers handling their "pet" snakes. All had recently completed supposedly "Nationally Accredited" Snake handling courses, where the preferred handling method taught was metal "Tongs", which besides being illegal to use to catch and handle snakes, increase the bite risk, due to the fact they commonly fatally injure snakes, and cause them to bite their attacker. The other five "victims" were all people (not known as reptile handlers) who were harassing snakes and should have used common sense and left them alone.


2013 – A record nine Australians died from snakebites this year! This is the highest number since the development and usage of anti-venoms in Australia in the late 1960's. Several fatalaties included people who had completed ill-conceived snake handler courses and been taught to "handle" with tongs and that most venomous bites are "dry bites" (not so).


2001 – Simon Watharow (of company “Snakehandler” fame) rushed to hospital for a serious Tiger Snake bite. Required several vials of antivenom. As recently as 2009, the new owner of "Snakehandler", Sean McCarthy openly boasted of breaching State Wildlife laws without being prosecuted (see his written entry in "Tympanum" in the Bulletin of the Chicago Herpetological Society 2009). More recently, in January 2011, another "Snakehandler" employee, Paul Fisher was rushed to hospital after being bitten by a Brown Snake he'd mistreated.


2014 – Sean McCarthy (of company “Snakehandler” fame) and the more recent owner, was rushed to hospital for a Death Adder bite after mishandling it in one of his ill-fated and inapproriately named snake handler courses in November 2014. His preferred handling method is with the back-breaking killer snake tongs. He had reports of his bite removed from the web as he unlawfully continued to market his business to unsuspecting people as having a "perfect record".


2006 – Glen Clapton a keeper at Healesville Sanctuary (“Zoos Victoria”) from a Red-bellied Black Snake. He had 3 Vials of anti-venom.  Bitten by snake on wrist when getting out of the cage. Kept out of media.  Has worked at Parker’s Ballarat Reptile Park and elsewhere.


2004 – Mike Taylor also of Healesville Sanctuary (“Zoos Victoria”) was bitten by a Broad-headed Snake when getting it out of a bag.  He had about 14 Vials of Tiger Snake anti-venom.


2008 - Mike Taylor (again) from Healesville Sanctuary (“Zoos Victoria”) keeper who was rushed to Maroondah Hospital and treated for a Brown Snake bite.  Reports on the case were suppressed by “Zoos Victoria” and DSE Victoria.


2006 - Jon Birkett, Melbourne Zoo, (“Zoos Victoria”) had a Tiger Snake bite requiring trip to hospital, intensive care and antivenom. In spite of this, Birkett lied in court in 2011 by telling a magistrate he had a perfect safety record. He was never charged with perjury as he was a government employee.


2006 - Jason Hall was bitten and killed by a "tame" Taipan on 5 June. He'd been using "killer tongs" to grab the snake, as taught to him during an ill-conceived "snake handling course". Following this incident there were actions to outlaw private ownership of all reptiles in all Australian states, the current push to this effect still afoot as of 2009.


2000 – Tony Johnson suffered an Inland Taipan Bite from snake supplied by David Williams and Brian Starkey.  The handler was allegedly alcohol infected at time of the bite.


2007 – Stuart Parker at Ballarat Wildlife Park, on about 1 March 2007, got a bite from a NW WA Death Adder, required anti-venom.  He was back at work three days later according to Ballarat Courier.


2000 (Approx.) – Bryan Fry, calling himself "Venom Doc", one of those butchers who attacks snakes with metal tongs, was chomped by a Stephen's Banded Snake he'd been mistreating. He required several vials of Tiger Snake anti-venom to survive.


2004 – Les Williams was bitten on 27 January by a large Mulga Snake.


Various dates – Chris Hay a licenced demonstrator in Victoria.  Had Floodplain Death Adder bite had three lots of anti-venom and another bite from a King Brown Snake that required air-lifting to a hospital. In an unrelated incident he pled guilty to drugs and other reptile charges, including smuggling related.  No moves on his licences or conditions imposed by DSE even after two near fatal bites and serious wildlife bust.


Various dates - The Irwin-run "Australia Zoo" business has a shocking safety record, including at least three venomous snake bites involving staff in the last decade, including an incident in 2009 where a keeper was bitten by an Eastern Brown Snake and required anti-venom to survive. On 10 August 2011, Australia Zoo sent a legal threat, unlawfully demanding removal of this information from this webpage. Rather than get involved in a legal battle with the government-backed business, this threat was complied with in order to keep the peace. This information was reinstated on 28 November 2013, following yet another incident at the Zoo, this one being an attack by a Tiger who had been tormented by a keeper. This was for the express purpose of getting angry Tiger footage for a TV-show, the act of tormenting the tiger being in likely breach of both animal cruelty and OH and S Laws. This was third such incident involving avoidable big cat attacks at the Zoo and yet no charges had ever been laid against the Irwin business. Steve Irwin was a well-known and protected criminal before he was killed after illegally tormenting a Sting Ray. Also as a matter of public record, Raymond Hoser's two young kids were unlawfully arrested by heavily armed police in an illegal dawn raid on the family home and subjected to intense trauma. This was on 17 August 2011 in Melbourne at the direct instigation of Terri Irwin, owner of Australia Zoo. She had sent an email to the Victorian government a week prior on 10 August 2011 demanding the raid. The commercial style of business of the government-backed "Australia Zoo" business has been to attack other wildlife education businesses and zoos, including some run by leading Australian zoologists and to use corrupt and over-zealous government officers to do their dirty work. Victims of these actions include Bob Buckley (Qld) and Bob Withey (NSW), both of whom have enviable histories of breeding rare and endangered species. Buckley's entire breeding program was wiped out!  


Various dates – numerous fatal and near fatal incidents associated with “Venom Supplies”, owned by Peter Mirtschin. This facility has easily the worst safety record of any snake handling outfit in Australia.  Included is the case of employee Eric Ardmassen killed by his Scrub Python (at his home)(Mirtschin denied responsibility). Numerous serious bites for Peter Mirtschin himself, including two from Taipans and one from a Peninsula Brown.  Other staff also had several serious bites, including Nathan Dunstan, chomped by Taipan and nearly died.  Details of other life-threatening incidents are suppressed.


Various dates - Neville Burns – now of “Blue Mountains Reptile Displays” was bitten by a Red-bellied Black Snake, had anti-venom and lost his thumb.  He also had a serious bite from a Jaffa Snake.


2007 - Tom Parkin the “teaching partner” of Neville Burns, was in November 2007 chomped by  Taipan he mishandled and rushed to hospital in 2007.  Without immediate anti-venom he’d have died.


2007 - Tony Harrison, most famous for his bootlegging of registered trademarks and owner of "Gold Coast Snake Shows" got ten vials of anti-venom after mishandling an Eastern Brown snake that bit him with one fang on his thumb. He required urgent surgery to survive. More recently he nearly killed a member of the public at one of his displays when he illegally let the man handle a fully loaded venomous snake. As a police-protected criminal he was never charged.


2003 - Daniel Bamblett, similarly famous for his bootlegging of registered trademarks to steal clients from others and operating out of Townsville got antivenom and five days in ICU for a Taipan bite.


2007 - An informant for the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) named Ron Siggins – was killed by a  Little Whip Snake bite he was mistreating on 15 April.


2002 – Kurt Ison, Sydney at “Australia’s Wonderland” was bitten by a Jaffa Snake while demonstrating it to an audience, he had anti-venom and was very ill.  The same facility had theft of snakes by break in that included an adult Jaffa in around Oct 2006 and reported in the media at time.  The snakes were not recovered.


2006 – A Keeper at Bredl’s Renmark Park bitten by a Taipan and had anti-venom.  Also a week earlier another man in area bitten and killed by Brown Snake (wild) and reported in media – bite from a young snake. Both reports were in the first week of February month)


14 Jan 07 – A 16-year-old snake handler in Sydney died from a Brown snake bite in Sydney.  He was displaying the snake to an audience at the time. He died after the bite.  Father, Steve Foster told newspapers later that his son wanted to be “the next Steve Irwin”.  In March 2009 34-year-old Malcolm Biggs did much the same thing with a Red-bellied Black Snake, later saying he was copying Steve Irwin.  Without antivenom he’d have died as well.  In other words, people who copy Steve Irwin and torment wildlife are likely to be killed in a similar way when the animals act appropriately.


2006 - Rob Hawkins, a Qld NPWS ranger was using “killer tongs” to grab a small Taipan at Proserpine. He was bitten and as usual for the species needed immediate anti-venom. 


Various dates – David John Williams has had multiple life-threatening Taipan bites requiring anti-venom.  He has numerous serious convictions for wildlife smuggling and also extreme animal cruelty.


2007-2008 – John Lucas of the newly formed company “Educational Reptile Displays” had to be carted off to hospital twice within his first year of demonstrating venomous snakes.  One was a bite from a Mulga Snake when doing a “pit display” at an October 2007 agricultural show, meaning that the event was brought to an abrupt end.  In a second incident, in 2008 he was carted off to hospital for a Death Adder bite when ostensibly “teaching” people how to handle these snakes and NOT get bitten in an ill-conceived “venomous snake handling course”. In an earlier incident he was carted off to hospital for a Jaffa Snake.


Date not certain – George White - bitten on hand after mishandling a Red-bellied Black Snake. Severe envenomation resulting in permenant (life-long) damage.


Various dates – Graeme Gow – Many bites and hospital trips.


Too many dates to remember! – Peter Mirtschin a licenced snake handler in South Australia has had at least three life-threatening snakebites, including two from Taipans requiring anti-venom and another bite from a Peninsula Brown Snake. The list of cases of his staff getting carted to hospital for snakebites, gives his company "venom supplies" one of the worst safety records in Australia, with the possible exception of "Zoo's Victoria". A Mirtschin company staff member was allegedly strangled and killed by his pet scrub python, being the only such case in Australian history. Tabloid news reports at the time stated the man was drunk. Mirtschin later claimed in VCAT in 2008 that it wasn't his responsibility as the fatal incident occurred outside normal working hours.


Deaths! – In the first six months of 2011, four well-known snake handlers were killed by their "pet" snakes. These were Dirk Spring, Wade Westbrook, Aleta Stacey and Luke Yeomans. Not surprisingly, there were new calls to ban all reptiles in captivity.


Note: Some incidents have resulted in litigation by adversely affected parties.


Note Two: Irresponsible handling and resulting bite incidents can put the hard won legal rights of all Australians to keep reptiles at risk!