Another episode of Memorable Moments, the blogging a book project about my life in Africa.
There are a lot of big snakes in Africa, many of them poisonous. Our farm was home to more than its fair share of Banded Cobras and African Pythons. There were some very big pythons in the kopjes (rocky outcrops) near our house and other parts of the farm. Pythons are non-venomous but still need treating with respect because of their ability to inflict a nasty bite. The larger specimens could easily crush a child in their constricting coils.
Banded cobras, although not as big, can still reach over 6′ or 2 metres in length, are highly venomous and with their yellow and black banded colouring, quite frightening at close range. Like most cobras, they can extend their hoods and raise the front part of their bodies off the ground to intimidate prey or predators.
We had many other species of snakes, night adders and smaller cobras were small enough to get through the mesh of our security fence. The cats would kill many of them, we would catch those that escaped the cat’s attention and release them in the bush far away from the house. Only rarely did we find it necessary to shoot a large cobra that persisted in hanging around the farm buildings or the house.
Pythons were never shot or injured in any way. They were an endangered and protected species. On a few occasions we removed large ones from the staff village. Africans, like most people, are generally frightened by snakes and object to sharing their houses with them. Capturing pythons was done by me, assisted by one of our sons if either of them were at home or, reluctantly, by one of our workers. We would grab the snake, put it into a large canvas bag, put the bag in the back of a truck and take it to a remote part of the farm. In the case of a big python, it could be quite an adventure.
Snakes, both venomous and harmless played an important part in keeping the rat and mouse population under control, which was another reason for us only destroying the larger venomous ones if there was a good chance of someone getting bitten.
Encounters with snakes, large and small, poisonous and harmless were often the source of great hilarity. (In the telling of the story after the event!) We would find small snakes in the house, often brought in by the cats as playthings only to be abandoned in a dazed but unharmed state to recover and move around the floor. There is nothing like almost stepping on a small cobra while walking barefoot and bleary eyed to the toilet in the early morning to wake one up.
We had some builders repairing the brick wall of a garage, as one of them lifted a brick, a 2′ cobra uncoiled itself from a cavity between the bricks and slid over his hand, poor guy nearly fell of the scaffolding and had to take a break to recover.
One of the most memorable was through my own stupidity. I was driving my farm pick up along one of our farm roads. There was dense hyparrhenia grass on the side of the road, that is the indigenous grass species in the savanna regions and can grow over 6′ (2 metres) tall. I saw the tail of a what I thought was a small black snake sticking out of the grass onto the track. It looked strange, I could not identify what type of snake it might be. Curiosity got the better of me, I stopped, got out of the truck and grabbed the tail.
Imagine my shock when I heard a loud hissing noise and a large Banded Cobra’s head, hood fully extended, forked tongue flicking, reared up in the grass about 3′ (1 metre) away. I was well within striking distance, I let go of the tail and got back in the truck, quickly. I had grabbed the tail of a very big, very angry cobra, not that of a small black snake.
A good lesson.
Python image – Wikipedia Creative Commons
Cobra image – Smithsonian National Zoological Park