snakes in senegal

pasted below is some information collected by my friend Lauren Haar on snakes in Senegal:

Here are excerpts from the paper my snake phd friend sent me…  in case you want to know what you’re up against.  Northern Senegal apparently has the same types of snakes, but they’re a less dense population.


From 1976 to 1999, we conducted a prospective study of overall and cause-specific mortality among the population of 42 villages of south-eastern Senegal. Of 4,228 deaths registered during this period, 26 were brought on by snakebites, 4 by invertebrate stings and 8 by other wild or domestic animals. The average annual mortality rate from snakebite was 14 deaths per 100,000 population. Among persons aged 1 year or more, 0.9% (26/2,880) of deaths were caused by snakebite and this cause represented 28% (26/94) of the total number of deaths by accident. We also investigated the snake fauna of the area. Of 1,280 snakes belonging to 34 species that were collected, one-third were dangerous and the proportion of Viperidae, Elapidae and Atractaspididae was 23%, 11% and 0.6%, respectively. The saw-scaled viper Echis ocellatus was the most abundant species (13.6%). Other venomous species were Causus maculatus (6.5%), Naja katiensis (5.5%), Bitis arietans (2.7%), Elapsoidea trapei (2.4%), Naja nigricollis (1.2%), Naja melanoleuca (1.1%), Atractaspis aterrima (0.4%), Dendroaspis polylepis (0.3%) and Naja haje (0.1%).


In order to complete an exploratory study on the risk of death due to snakebite in a rural zone of South-Eastern Senegal, we have carried out a survey to estimate the incidence of snakebites in the same population. The study made on a sample of almost 600 subjects showed an annual incidence of 677 bites per 100.000 inhabitants, that is one of the most important rate ever reported in the world until now. Based on these results and data collected previously on deaths due to snakebites in this same population, we provide an estimate of snakebite case fatality rate of 2.1% in this area of Senegal.


I had lunch with the snake man, which was one of the most informative lunches I’ve had in a hwile.  He was really passionate about snakes…  Eerily passionate.  But here’s a bit of what he said..


 he said that viperidae (which are vipers if you couldn’t guess) we have in the states, and they’re usually pretty shy.  They hunt at night and use heat sensing pitt organs to get food.  so watch your stove.


Elapidae are the mambas and coral snakes, those are the ones he said you’d probably see if you saw them at all.  The mambas are most common and they’ll be in trees or curled up on the ground by trees.  they’re really fast and really poisonous and aggressive.  He was not a big fan of mambas.  He said learn what they look like and avoid them if you can.  I think most of them look like cobras.


You’re most likely to see spotted adders or green adders while you’re there. They are out all day and are small. These snakes attack more people than the rest of them, mostly because they’re small and really active.  They eat frogs and live underground usually.  When it rains they hunt so they’re more likely to bite when it’s the rainy season. Apparently there’s also some sort of parasite which is killing them off.  So they are probably fairly grumpy.


Ok there was a lot more snakage he talked about, but I don’t remember a lot of it. Here’s the takehome message.


Black mambas, adders and sawscale vipers or something like that are the big 3 to watch for.  Controling rodent populations, turning off stoves or keeping them off the ground and away from your bed, checking before putting on shoes or clothes, and do the bed check before getting under covers.  Most snakes won’t come after you, with the exception of the mamba because it’s nasty. If you do see snakes, either back away slowly in a curved pattern, or distract them by throwing something that makes a vibration on the ground away from yourself.


bolivia/argentina part deux

I’ve posted some photos from my trip:


This post marks what I think will be a transition on this blog. I originally started it with the intention of recording my Peace Corps experience for friends and family back home. In order to get into the habit of blogging I just started writing about whatever it was I was reading/thinking about at any given time. As I return from a trip to visit Jacqueline Brysacz, a Peace Corps volunteer in Bolivia, I’m increasingly occupied with my upcoming departure and less with issues of policy. I may not be recording much until I arrive, as I’m spending most of my time in preparation. Just a heads up.

Youth Opportunity Agenda

Some very good ideas coming from Hillary’s campaign:

does income inequality really matter?

If you spend much time following the news these days–and especially the 2008 presidential campaign–you will have noticed the ebb of a backlash against income inequality. Data are showing that economic gains are largely accruing to only those at the top of the income distribution. (There are all sorts of good papers on income inequality. For the best, I’d recommend Dew-Becker; Yellen; and Pikkety/Saez).

A good number of left-leaning Americans are pallid with fear about this trend. To them it represents a break-down of our social contract and a failure to meet our obligations to the worse off. But do we actually have reason to care about inequality in and of itself? Harry Frankfurt, a professor of philosopy emeritus at Princeton, makes the argument that it’s not inequality that matters but how much the poor actually have. Similarly, Mickey Kaus argues that it’s not money inequality that matters but rather the shift in social mores that, at present, dictate that individuals with more income are higher on the social ladder; that they’re more important (he also makes the Frankfurt argument). In its shortest form, it’s not income inequality that matters but what income inequality represents: a material lack of the worse off or undesirable social values.

Others, such as Robert Frank and Erzo Luttmer, argue that inequalities–differences in relative well-being–have a measurable impact on happiness, as individuals report it in survey data. If income inequality actually makes people less happy then we should care about inequality in and of itself.

A new paper from Karen Dynan, of the Fed, and Enrichetta Ravina, of NYU, shows that although inequalities do negatively impact happiness they only do so above a certain threshold. They write:

The implication is that the happiness of people in groups with below-average earnings is little affected by how much their earnings differe from the average, while the happiness of people in groups with above-average earnings is considerably affected by how much their earnings outperform the average.

If you care about income inequality because of sentiments for the worse-off members of society (who really cares if a millionaire is less happy than a billionaire due to the disparities in their earnings?) then there seems to be little reason for caring about income inequality in and of itself. The arguments made by Frankfurt and Kaus are, in my opinion, still the most compelling when it comes to how we should think about inequality.

Citation for Dynan/Ravina paper: 

Dynan, Karen and Enrichetta Ravina, “Increasing Income Inequality, External Habits, and Self-Reported Happiness,” American Economic Review, Vol. 97, No. 2, May


farm bill failure

The inability of Congress to make substantial progress on reforming farm subsidies is a wonderful example of how timorous the Democrat-led Congress has been in the face of a veto from President Bush. The war aside, Congress has more-or-less failed to make any meaningful progress on expanding SCHIP, reducing carbon emissions, and limiting trade distorting agricultural subsidies. They did succeed in expanding the minimum wage to $7.15 per hour by 2009 but scholars and analysts widely agree that this won’t do much to benefit the poor or working class as the main recipients of this increase are either middle-class teenagers or individuals from a family that already has a stable income. The EITC, which Congress has not expanded, is much more effective as an anti-poverty measure. 


The cover story at Slate today was just fantastic. David Shenk, author of the 1997 book Data Smog, re-evaulates his worries about information overloading our lives given technological developments over the last 10 years. While some of his arguments, in retrospect, may have been short-sighted and some overly harsh, many of the main points are just as trenchant and insightful now as they were then. In some cases the issues we face in 2007 are more troublesome than we could have even imagined a decade ago. This is the best thing I’ve read all day and maybe all week.