A plan to track the snakes of Canberra is being prepared by one of the city's top academics who doubles as a snake catcher in his spare time.
Sociologist Gavin Smith of the Australian National University (ANU) plans to tag 12 eastern brown snakes to see where they go when they are released.
The idea of the three-year project is to trace their movements to understand them better, but also to find out if they are disorientated when they are released far from where they are captured.
The first step is to test battery-powered tracking equipment on the snakes to see what works best when it's strapped to creatures which may well hide under paving stones. Will the transmitters still be in range?
Two types of tracker and recorder are to be used, a GPS one strapped to the snake and a chip implanted in the reptile.
A priority will be not to harm the snake, Dr Smith of the ANU said.
"I love snakes so the last thing I want to do is harm them," he said.
He is keen to know what effect releasing a snake into the bush has. Does it displace other snakes, for example?
The implanted microchip would be used to identify each snake (much like a chip in a pet dog does). The GPS would track its movements so a map can be created of where it goes when it's released.
Of the 12 snakes in the experiment, six are to be released where they are found and six released far away in the bush. The aim will be to find out if they behave differently.
Dr Smith wants to build up a picture of where snakes fit into the ecology of Canberra and the bush around.
"We can start to see what role they play in the environment," he said.
His day job is as Associate Professor of Sociology at the ANU's College Arts and Social Sciences.
"My research looks at how and why particular bodies and behaviours come to be codified as defective, by whom, and the effects of these discourses and related measures on subjectivity and resultant modes of social action," he said.
His other job is more comprehensible. He gets his gear and catches snakes, usually eastern browns which can kill within the hour.
He is fascinated by snakes and where they fit into human life. He thinks that we fear them unnecessarily.
He has kept nonvenomous snakes as pets.
His nonacademic business is called ACT Snake Removals.
Earlier in the month, he removed an eastern brown from a kennel in Queanbeyan. He also took one out of a children's playground.
Despite their ability to kill, he thinks they don't deserve their bad press.
"Snakes are incredibly communicative," he said.
"People see them as dumb and inert, but they are curious when they become calm.
"They have a softness."
He thinks he may even have won the affection of one, an eastern brown whose bite can kill a human within a few hours.
"I've seen amazing things like a snake resting its head on my boot when I'm releasing it, almost like a gesture of gratitude for not harming it," he said.
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