Getting to know the neighbours. Working toward a stress-free co-existence with snakes

Mocambique Spitting Cobra pic Nick Evans

Whew, just finished my 30th Comrades! Those of you who’ve never done it won’t understand: Up at sparrow, pack the coffee, rusks, bacon, eggs, skottel, beers and chairs. Schlep to the end of the road and set up. Spend the day in the boiling sun – drinking, eating, clapping and shouting “well done” about 10000 times – pack up and go home! You’ve got to do it to know what it takes out of you but I guess if you’re a runner, you wouldn’t understand. I know this has nothing to do with snakes, except to mention that when they arrive at their destination after a long chase through the bush, they still look as fresh as they did when they started. I can’t say that would have applied to most of the runners I saw.

The foregoing aside, it’s been pretty hectic all round, with snake calls coming thick and fast. Although I’ve often said that I don’t do snake callouts, I sometimes respond if it’s close by and sounds interesting. I responded recently to two calls, the first of which was from a family living on a nearby smallholding, who’d had some unwelcome visits from Mozambique spitters. Both their son and their dog had got venom in the eyes from different snakes – both recovered after treatment. They killed one snake and whilst I was there we managed to catch a second – about 800mm long – which was trying to hide behind the cupboard in the daughter’s bedroom.

A few days later, whilst on my way back from a visit to an environmental club near Midmar, I got a call about a puff adder from someone in the Town Bush area of Maritzburg. Whilst walking down a narrow path with the homeowner, a large puffie – having played hide and seek with him for a few days prior to my visit – virtually gave itself up. It was basking on top of some disused crates lying next to the path, about a metre from the guy telling me his story. We caught it and put it into a shift-box so that everyone could have a closer look for future reference. It showed no stress at all – an indication that it was probably accustomed to human movement.

In both cases, the snakes were released back into the bush, well away from harm but still in their typical environment. Both of these incidents had one common denominator – apart from the snake – which is worth considering. They’d taken up residence in very snake-friendly habitats. The flat-rooved house on the smallholding had enough adjacent loose paving slabs and open drain pipes to tempt any homeless snake or frog to move in, and the puffie was very comfortable in its rampant, rodent-friendly mini jungle that had lots of man-made bits and pieces scattered about, offering a wide choice of condos for any discerning camper.

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