Fish on the line and a Mamba in the mind

By Pat McKrill
Working toward a stress-free co-existence with snakes

I often get the opportunity to speak to audiences on the subject of snakes, and sometimes this digs out the demons in the minds of some of the audience. I hear stories of snake encounters that can never really be verified, but nevertheless warrant mention, and despite the fact they are real in the mind of the “victim”, some tend to test the boundaries of credibility.

In the picture: A night adder heads for land – yes, they can swim.

While on an historical tour of the battlefields in the Natal Midlands, a fellow guest who’d heard that I was interested in snakes, spoke about being “attacked by a ‘green mamba’”, while fishing on the Albert Falls Dam near Pietermaritzburg.

He was trolling the dam in his dingy, stopping every now and again to test for good fishing spots. During one of these stops, he spotted this snake (probably a male boomslang) heading towards him in that slow undulatory motion that many snakes use to propel themselves forward.

“MAMBA!” he yelled out to his companion, pointing at the snake heading their way. After a moment of dumbfounded silence, pandemonium took over. Strange how things, like outboard motors, never work properly when you want them to.

More panic ensued as they tried to get the motor to fire, but when all 2.5 hp of raw power finally thrust them forward across the dam, they knew they were safe! They headed away from the snake as fast as they could, tapping off once it was out of sight, and resumed the fishing.

Becoming an overnight “snake star”

Not half an hour later, bingo! “MAMBA!” came the cry once more. It was green, and it was well over 2 metres in length – true fishermen can judge the length of a moving obstacle in the water to within 99.9% of accuracy.

Further panic ensued, and they fled the ambush site once more – shouting excitedly at each other and no one else in particular, as they headed for the shore to call it a day. As the boat beached, they ran up toward the campsite where there was strength in numbers, shouting and screaming, “SNAKE! RUN!!” as if it were attached to them by some invisible string.

While telling his tale, the storyteller became quite animated, spitting on me occasionally – emphasising the degree of danger they were in. When asked for my opinion, I’m afraid I failed to meet his expectations, but once he started to understand my take on the situation, he at least stopped spitting.

Our limbless friends know what’s potting with the weather

I recalled the story of “Operation Noah”’ from the old Rhodesia in the 1950s, when Rupert Fothergill and his band of helpers rescued as many animals as they could off the islands that were being formed as the waters of the Zambezi river rose, filling lake Kariba. One of their many problems during this operation was dealing with the number of snakes that kept climbing into the boats – to seek refuge. At no stage have I seen it recorded that anybody was attacked – something we humans might consider next time we make assumptions under pressure.

Contact Pat: herpet@eastcoast.co.za
Cell: 083 303 6958