Woman’s unwanted passenger refuses to leave ute

Red-bellied black snakes are one of the most frequently encountered snakes on the east coast of Australia.

Lisa Kournelis is pictured beside an image of the red-bellied black snake that she found in her ute.
Lisa Kournelis says a total of four snake catchers failed to remove a red-bellied black snake from her ute. Source: ABC / Lisa Kournelis

The clock is ticking for an Aussie construction worker to remove a venomous red-bellied black snake from inside her ute, where it's made a comfortable home for past several weeks, before the animal enters its winter dormancy period known as brumation.

Newcastle woman Lisa Kournelis said she first suspected she had an extra passenger stowed away in her vehicle last month after she kept "finding snake poo" in her utility. Kournelis, who works in civil construction, said she was given quite a shock when she eventually found the snake on her back seat while "putting a box in my car".

Red-bellied black snakes are one of the most frequently encountered snakes on the east coast and are responsible for a number of bites every year. While there has never been an official recorded death from a red-bellied black snake in Australia, they are venomous and can kill if a bite is left untreated.

"I believe it was in there for a good three weeks before that because I was finding snake poo everywhere," Kournelis told the ABC. She recalled how the snake, that she affectionately dubbed "Fluffy", kept leaving her subtle hints about its presence, such as setting off the car alarm during the day.

"So just random times from about 11 o'clock in the morning, my car alarm will go off. I wasn't sure what it was at first, but then I clued on," she said, adding that a total of four snake catchers had failed to remove the animal from its hiding spot in the vehicle.

Kournelis said that she's been left with no other choice but to leave the animal in the ute while she drives it, as she requires her car daily and isn't willing to leave it parked on the street over fears of vandalism.

The red-bellied black snake that Lisa Kournelis found in her ute.
While no official deaths have ever been recorded in Australia as a result of a red-bellied black snake bite, they are venomous. Source: Lisa Kournelis / ABC

"I'm very lucky actually that I haven't been bitten, but if it does bite these woollen work pants that I wear will take most of the venom," she said. "I don't really have any other choice. It hasn't hurt me, but it potentially could one day."

Speaking to Yahoo News Australia, Brandon Gifford from Sunshine Coast Snake Catchers 24/7 urged people to always be wary of the animals at night, particularly as snake season winds down and the cooler weather is ushered in, as the animals will hunt for a spot to hibernate.

"The number one thing I’ve noticed lately is that garage doors are being kept up and doors are being left open,” he earlier told Yahoo, adding that the message appears to be falling on "deaf ears".

"But definitely the garage door is one I think people don’t realise, and then the door leading to their house has that little space through which snakes can go under. That’s another way they’re getting in a lot." Along with keeping doors closed, keeping a property "neat and tidy" is also important, and that includes mowing the lawn and clearing rubbish away.

"We say it all the time, but you can see the places clearly as to where a snake might reside a little bit more, rather than just pass through."

With regard to Kournelis' situation, experts say to remove the snake it may require the ute to actually be taken apart.

Snake catcher Matt Stopford told the ABC the animal should be urgently removed. "The snake will slow down, he will want to stay in the car because it's a nice hiding spot to get warm, it's going to go off its food and probably settle in," he said.

Billy Collett from the Australian Reptile Park has since offered his assistance to Kournelis to remove the snake and she welcomed his support.

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