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WA Press: Tread carefully, because it's big, black, slithery

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Posted by W von Papinešu on May 12, 2003 at 21:23:36:

NEWS-TRIBUNE (Tacoma, Washington) 12 May 03 Tread carefully, because it's big, black, slithery and neurotoxic (Michael Gilbert)
Mosul, Iraq: There's nowhere to go in this camp where you're not pretty much at the mercy of bugs - flies, fleas, gnats, ants, spiders, mosquitos, the odd bee and these little aphidlike, translucent green things.
But now, Mother Nature has rolled out the heavy artillery.
A big black snake made two appearances Sunday in the 62nd Medical Brigade headquarters camp. Witnesses said it was at least 6 feet long and as thick as a man's wrist.
It showed up first in the morning, when it slithered past Spc. Emily Caraballo and Lt. Heather Tanner, into one of the sleep tents and out of sight.
Then, in the afternoon, it crawled right through a group of the Fort Lewis troops as they relaxed under a tent pavilion. Two sergeants screeched. A major fell over backward in his chair trying to get out of the way. Chaos ensued.
A bunch of soldiers chased the thing with poles and a shovel, but it eluded them again, this time slipping into some tall weeds and grass.
It's probably for the better that they didn't catch up with it. More than likely it was a desert black snake, or Walterinnesia aegyptica. The Armed Forces Medical Intelligence Center lists its venom as "neurotoxic - markedly so."
Its bite causes the same potentially deadly reaction in humans as a cobra or coral snake. It is one of a half-dozen or so dangerous venomous snakes and scorpions in Iraq.
Capt. Stacy Mosko, the brigade's preventive medicine officer, reasoned that it was probably the same snake in both sightings, and likely the same snake that was spotted Saturday next door at the 21st Combat Support Hospital.
There, they chased the thing until it slithered under the shipping container that houses the operating room and got away.
"I'm kind of surprised we haven't had one sooner," Mosko said. The troops here are camped in the middle of an old farm field, with acres of tall grass and weeds all around the built-up areas.
The snake was a bit of a surprise, though, because Mosko said he hasn't received any reports of rodents in the 62nd's area. Soldiers in other parts of the camp have caught some rats, he said.
"The good thing is they usually don't like to be around people," Mosko said. "This one must've been on a site survey."
The sightings will add a new sense of adventure to soldiers' nightly walk in the dark to their sleep tents. For one thing, the center of camp is criss-crossed with snake-thick black cables carrying power from generators to lights, computers, and field air conditioners that cool the tents against the 100-degree-plus temperatures each day.
And the floors of the tents are black, with lots of soldiers' gear piled around for snake hiding places.
A few took the opportunity Sunday to hang their stuff from the lines and poles inside the tents. The whole episode was funny, but a bit unnerving, too.
"He's at large," said Maj. Steve Sobczak, "and he is large."

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