Watch out for the Habu: sneaky snakes on the prowl in Okinawa
Stripes Japan | .
published: June 21, 2016
You may not believe this, but I once saw a habu beat a mongoose in a cross-species duel when I was a kid. Back then, the death match between the venomous snake found on Okinawa and surrounding islands and the predator from India, was a famous attraction at Gyokusendo Park, now known as Okinawa World.
It was mostly meant to be a one-sided match to witness the notorious serpent being defeated by the cute-looking mammal. But what I saw that day instead, was a nasty habu sink his fangs into the adorable face covered with dark brown fur. Although I was not seated close enough to see any bleeding or yellow poison gushing out of the habu’s fangs, I could still feel an unnerving mood smothering the venue. We had witnessed something we were not expecting. It was equal to James “Buster” Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson.
I don’t know what happened to the poor mongoose. But I could not avoid imagining the mammal’s face oozing pus from its nose and eyes and staggering to stay on all fours. I had seen photos of people with their fingers and toes necrotized by habu bites.
On that day, I learned an important lesson in my life and something blasted on AFN regularly: Don’t mess with habu! Even if you are as dexterous as a mongoose, which maybe doesn’t matter anyway, you can still be a victim of a habu’s poisonous fangs.
A warning about habu from the Okinawa Prefectural Government that runs through June 30 brought back part of my traumatic memory of the creature. Although none of my friends nor relatives have been bitten by habu recently, there are still on average about 100 people bit by the snake annually. But so far this year, only nine people have felt the fangs of the habu, according to the local government.
But don’t kid yourself, habu are lurking in the weeds, brush and rocky crevices. So, when you are out exploring this beautiful island, know what to look for and how to handle a habu if you happen upon one. You don’t want to be that unlucky mongoose. As Sun Tzu’s The Art of War said, “If you know your enemy and know yourself, in a hundred battles you will never be defeated.”
There are eight species of snake on Okinawa, but only four pose danger to humans: 1.Habu (originated on Okinawa), 2. Himehabu, 3. Sakishimahabu, 4.Taiwanhabu. These habu are active at night, especially when it is warm and humid.
Mating among these snakes takes place between March and May, followed by egg-laying from late June through July. Two to five eggs around 2.36 inches in length are laid at a time. Baby habu hatch from late August through September. They are about 15.7 inches in length, and are already venomous.
Habu feed on small mammals such as mice and muskrats. Their fangs carry enough venom to be used several times. New fangs come out several times a year.
If you encounter one
- Identify what type of habu it is.
- Keep a couple meters away front it, if possible.
- Capturing and taking them alive should not be attempted. Remember: they are poisonous!
• “Habu ni Chuui (Watch out for Habu),“ a brochure published by the prefectural government, suggests that hitting a habu with a stick, using a habu killer spray called “Habu Knock Neo,” or running them over with a car are good ways to deal with the situation. Personally, I would say these methods should be executed with utmost caution and only when you run out of options … like slowly backing away.
If you are bit
Confirm that it is a Habu snake (not other kinds of snake) that has bit you. If it is a Habu, there should be two (sometimes one or three or four) teeth marks left on your skin. The affected part will swell and severely hurt in a few minutes.
Ask for help
Ideally get someone to give you ride to a hospital. If you move fast, it will help the venom go deep in you system quickly. If you need to walk to a hospital, you should do it slowly.
Contact U.S. Naval Hospital at DSN 646-7555 or Tel 098-971-7555. Or you may call 119 for local fire department, which will coordinate with the Naval Hospital.
Going to the hospital
Loosely tie a part of your body with a soft fabric or belt that is closer to your heart than the affected area. For example, if you are bitten in the hand, you could tie a tourniquet around your arm to slow down blood circulation (Don’t tie too tightly). Loosen the tourniquet once every 15 minutes.
Who ya gonna call?
“If someone comes across a Habu on base, they should keep safe distance away and call 911, report that you are calling for PMO Animal Control. Carefully watch the Habu to ensure where it is until Animal Control arrives on-scene.”
- Public Affairs, Marine Corps Installation Pacific
Kadena Air Base
“Contact the 18th Civil Engineer Squadron pest management flight@ 634-1961/0882.”
- 18th Wing Public Affairs Office
“Avoid going into farming areas, sugar cane fields, and bushes especially at night time. The Habu snake prefers damp, secluded places such as sugar cane fields, bushy tombs, road sides, between stone walls, and caves. On Army facilities call 644-4715 or 098-911-1911 if calling from a cell phone or get help to evacuate yourself/friend to U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa while minimizing physical activity. The safety and security of our Soldiers, Families and civilians remains a top priority for U.S. Army Garrison - Okinawa. All newcomers to the island are given a thorough brief on environmental hazards including the habu.”
- USAG – Okinawa Public Affairs Office
“Contact DSN: 634-9628 for support.
Or you can contact CFAO security at 622-1410.”
- CFAO Public Affairs Office
Learn more about habu
I recommend going to Habu Museum Park to see the different types of habu, along with valuable photos and materials. Better yet, you can touch a big snake and take a photo with it during the park’s daily snake shows. Being a part Okinawan World, this museum is actually a fun place for a family visit.
Habu Museum Park
Hours: Every day, 9 a.m.- 6 p.m.
Location: 1336 Maekawa Tamagusuku Nanjo city, Okinawa prefecture 901-0616(Inside of Okinawa World)
Useful tools available at local store
Mr. Sonan, who is in charge of selling the above at Makeman, a local do-it-yourself store in American Village gives his take on protecting yourself against habu: “Even if you apply the ‘Habu Knock Neo’ spray directly on a habu, the snake can still get violent and strike back at you. Ideally, the product should be used like a repellent to drive the creature away. Whatever the case is, direct attacks on habu should be avoided. The two repellent ‘Hebiless’ and ‘Mogura Hebi Mukade Z’ are commonly used by campers to keep the snakes off their camping sites. When you use the triangle trap, make sure you set it up along a fence or a wall because that’s’ where Habu snakes crawl.”
Hours: Every day, 9:30 a.m.- 8 p.m.
Location: 9 Mihama, Chatan, Nakagami, Okinawa Prefecture 904-015 (Near Dragon Palace in American Village)
Website (Japanese only): http://www.makeman.co.jp/modules/pico/index.php?content_id=79