How to cope with Australia's scary wildlife

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The irresistible fauna and flora of Australia draw visitors in droves, but some of the local wildlife sends us running for cover. If you're inspired to travel in Oz, keep an eye on the local critters with these tips from Lonely Planet Magazine.

Snakes

Uniquely, Australia has more venomous than non-venomous species of snakes, but the actual risk to people is very small - most snakes are timid and tend to move away if disturbed. Wearing protective clothing, such as gaiters, when bushwalking makes it easy to prevent bites to the legs, ankles and feet, where 80 per cent of bites occur. If you do get bitten, you should immediately seek medical attention after having applied pressure to the wound and immobilised the area with a splint or sling.

Spiders

There are poisonous spiders across Australia, but no deaths have occurred since antivenoms were made widely available in the early 1980s. Prior to that, just the Sydney funnel-web and redback spiders had caused deaths. In the unlikely event of a bite, you should go to hospital immediately. Applying ice or cold packs to the bite can bring some relief.

Related article: How to deal with bites and stings

Marine animals

The risk of shark attacks on scuba divers in New South Wales is considered to be low. Swimmers and surfers should consult local surf life-saving groups for specific advice about dangers in a given area. Stepping on marine spikes, such as those found on urchins, stonefish, scorpion fish, catfish and stingrays, can cause severe local pain or worse. A wound should immediately be immersed in hot water until the pain subsides and medical care can be reached. Full-body Lycra ‘stinger suits’ provide good protection against jellyfish, but if you do get stung, wash the skin with vinegar to immobilise the stingers and head for hospital.

Platypus

By the miniscule chance that you actually come across a platypus in the wilderness of eastern Australia, be aware that the male has an ankle spur, which can deliver a non-lethal but extremely painful venom.

Source: Lonely Planet’s guide to Sydney & New South Wales. See chw.edu.au/poisons/bites_stings.htm for a fully detailed briefing.