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Helping Midlands pupils get to grips with snakes

Ayobongwa Ntombela, Nqobane Mkhulise and Alwande Hadebe holding a 2.3m Taiwanese Rat Snake.

Words and photos: Mduduzi Mchunu

The well-known herpetologist and snake expert Pat McKrill held a talk with school pupils recently and shared awareness about snakes and ways in which they are mistakenly deemed evil and aggressive in nature by some. Pupils from four Midlands schools, Triandra, Corrie Lynn and Hawkstone Primary Schools, and Shea O’Connor Combined School, were equipped with more facts about snakes.

Pat pointed out that far more people die from mosquito bites compared to incidents with snakes – pupils were fascinated by that and felt more comfortable and at ease around the slithery reptiles. They were given a chance to hold snakes, and even though some were frightened at first, they acclimatised fast and more volunteered to take part and interact with the creatures.

Snake expert Pat McKrill chats to Simangaliso Dlamini, a teacher from Shea O’Connor Combined School, while he holds a brown house snake.

Fascinating and thought-provoking information such as, that we also have poison in our bodies, intrigued the pupils. The gastric juices activate digestive enzymes that breaks down food in our stomach, the same way that a snake has poison that helps it to paralyse its prey. Snakes do not hear, and there is no need to shout at them, Pat informed the pupils and school staff.

Senses movement

“I was always told by my parents that when I see a snake I must run, but Mr McKrill, said we must stand still for us to not frighten a snake, since it senses movements,” said Nqobane Mkhulise, a Grade 6 pupils at Corrie Lynn.”

Sphumelele Mpangase from Corrie Lynn Primary School, comfortable with a snake.

“Since I’m from the rural areas there is misinformation, some based on superstition, others from our cultural norms. We believed that there is a snake that will not bite you if you drank milk, and I have just found out that is not a fact at all. I overcame my fear of snakes, and I was able to hold it in my hands. Mind you, at first I did not want to come near the snakes,” laughed Simangaliso Dlamini, a teacher from Shea O’Connor Combined School.

By Pat McKrill: Beliefs about snakes to chuck in the myth bin

With more teachers overcoming their fears, pupils were soon also confident enough to hold the reptiles. This is the transformational thinking required to change the way we interact with every species, since they also have every right to be in this environment.

Healthy ecosystem

Snakes play a huge role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem balance, since they act as rodent exterminators. Snakes eat rats that also eat crops, thus indirectly snakes aid in food security. Some rats are vectors of diseases and having snakes that prey on them will help eliminate the problem.

The visit was coordinated by One Planet SA, which works to support local schools with sustainability lessons to develop an environmental ethos among pupils. One Planet SA is funded by UNEP (the UN’s Environment Programme), Solon Foundation and the HCI Foundation.

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