Snake Bite in Elephants and Ferrets

Summary Information
Diseases / List of Toxic Diseases / Disease summary
Alternative Names --
Disease Agents
Infectious Agent(s)
Non-infectious Agent(s) --
Physical Agent(s) --
General Description
  • Snake bite is recorded as a cause of death in elephants. (B384.5.w5, B388.4.w4, B453.7.w7, B455.w2)

Elephas maximus - Asian Elephant

  • A report from a shikari (sportsman hunter) on a tiger hunt describes how an elephant was bitten on the tip of the trunk by an Ophiophagus hannah - King cobra. The 5,443 kg elephant was dead in three hours. (B455.w2)
  • A fatality was reported on a bull elephant, working in a timber camp, that was bitten on the foot by an Ophiophagus hannah - King cobra. (B455.w2)
  • A fatality was reported when a four-year-old elephant calf was bitten on the trunk by "a large snake, probably a hamadryad." The fang marks were clearly visible and surrounded by a four-inch diameter swelling. (B388.4.w4)
  • In three cases in which elephants were said to have been bitten by cobras [species not specified], none of the elephants died, although one elephant was said to have been "in a precarious condition" for twenty four hours. (B212.w22)
  • In Thailand, several elephants are reported killed every year by Ophiophagus hannah - King cobras. (B455.w2)

Clinical signs:

  • Fang marks, surrounded by a swelling. (B388.4.w4)
  • Death. (B388.4.w4)

Clinical signs:

  • Erythema and swelling; the site may be painful or itchy and puncture marks may or may not be visible. (B232.10.w10)
Further Information
  • Sudden deaths of elephants may be attributed to snake bite in the absence of any indication that the elephant has been bitten; other causes of sudden death are more probable. (B212.w22, B388.4.w4)
  • Elephants may be most susceptible to snake bite when they are calves first exploring their environment. (B453.9.w9)
  • Snake bites are most likely during spring and early summer, when snakes are lethargic (particularly gravid females). (B651.9.w9)
  • Usually a ferret is too quick for an adder (Vipera berus - Common viper) to bite it. (B651.9.w9)
  • Due to the small body size of ferrets, the toxin from an adder bite could be fatal. (B652.6.w6)
  • Diagnosis may be confirmed if distinct fang marks, surrounded by a swelling, are found. (J12.5.w1)
  • Keep the ferret as calm as possible and in a darkened area (e.g. a travel box). (B651.9.w9, B652.6.w6)
  • Clip the hair and clean the lesion. (J16.30.w1)
  • Anti-venom is recommended for poisonous snake bites. (B232.10.w10)
  • Provide supportive care as needed. See: Treatment and Care - Supportive Care and Nursing
Associated Techniques
Host taxa groups /species Further information on Host species has only been incorporated for species groups for which a full Wildpro "Health and Management" module has been completed (i.e. for which a comprehensive literature review has been undertaken). Host species with further information available are listed below:

(List does not contain all other species groups affected by this disease)

Author Dr Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5)

Return to top of page