By Pat McKrill
During my time in the military – shortly after the invention of gunpowder – there was a saying, “greatcoats on, greatcoats off”, that summed up the seeming inability of our leadership, to issue unambiguous orders, often to the point where we didn’t know what to do next!
Similar to the whim-driven changes in our Covid-19 rules and regulations. This on-off situation could also apply to our current winter weather patterns, where we can experience daily maximum temperature swings from 11C one day, to 28C the next, in the same week!
Excluding a few areas in the higher altitudes where it gets cold and stays cold this time of year, the lack of well-defined seasonal temperature bands means that South Africa’s cold-blooded creatures such as reptiles and amphibians don’t totally hibernate in the accepted sense. Some snakes – among them the slug, snail, and frog-eaters for example – that lose their primary food sources in winter, have no choice but to slow down their metabolism and wait it out.
Months without feeding
Cold-blooded animals need temperatures from at least the mid-20s upwards, to aid with the digestion of their food, and without this, some will go months without feeding. No warmth, no digestion. This is the reason there are far fewer reports of snakes scouring the countryside for food in the winter months, and those that are seen, are more often than not, taking what limited opportunities there are on offer, to bask.
I was called out on a freezing day last week by a packaging company nearby, to remove a large snake from their premises. They assured me they’d keep an eye on it, and that somebody would be watching it until I got there. Ja boet. Upon arrival, I was taken to a huge shed, piled up to the rafters with heavy bags of product loaded on pallets, and told, “it’s in there somewhere”.
Hands and knees
The physical location of the culprit was even less specific, and there followed a 20 minute grovel on my back, hands and knees, around the factory floor (now liberally sprinkled with Jeyes Fluid), head-torch and protective glasses (in case it was a spitter) in position, aided by the hysterical shouting of “over there”, “no, over there”, “underneath”, “on top”.
I eventually spotted it, about 2.5m of black mamba, head raised, mouth open, watching me from its refuge within one of the pallets. There followed at least another hour of rearranging pallets, aided by a couple of willing but nervous forklift operators, tracking the moving snake. Finally, we were in business.
The snake, exhausted and probably highly stressed by now, came along without much fuss, was binned (less stressful for it than being stuffed into a bag) and released the next day. The factory was warm inside, and despite the resident feral cats, there were enough wild rats around to make it a predator magnet, especially in winter.
My feeling was that the snake and cats were living there in harmony. Is your home, shed, factory a magnet?
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