What to do when you bump into a snake
Let me start this off by saying snakes are not evil. They are not out to get you. They are devoid of morals because they’re animals, so they literally cannot be evil. A few snakes are venomous though, so snakes in general have a bad reputation, and fear of them is valid.
For a lot of people, coming across a snake is their worst nightmare. Whether you are one of those people or not, you ought to know what to do when you come across a snake you’re unfamiliar with, and how to get out of the situation safely. I spoke to Chad Keates, a reptile specialist, about what to do when you encounter a snake, and here’s what he said.
1. The five metre rule
If you’re five metres away from any snake in South Africa, even Black Mambas and Cape Cobras, you’re completely safe. The Mozambican Spitting Cobra can only spit up to three metres, and it’s the same for the Rinkhals. So really, if you’re five metres away, you’re safe!
This is a many-spotted reed snake (Amplorhinus multimaculatus). They're mildly venomous, and the venom can affect humans. Photo by Chad Keates.
2. But what if you’re closer?
“The best thing you can do is back away slowly, try and not look it in the eye,” explained Chad. Avoid the eyes because spitting cobras spit venom at the eyes as a method of defence. “Don’t antagonise and don’t corner it,” said Chad. Snakes are not out to get you and they will not chase you. Often they’re just doing their thang, being snakes, you just happen to be on their path. They’re all very shy and, like most animals, won’t attack unless they feel threatened. So, back away, slowly, and don’t corner it.
This is an Albany adder (Bitis albanica). There have been no recorded bites for humans, but it's anticipated that a bite from one of these beauties will hurt, but won't kill you. Photo by Chad Keates.
3. Don’t try to kill it!
You might have a fear of snakes, and as I said earlier, that’s completly valid. Your instinct might be telling you to kill it, but that’s the biggest mistake you can make, and it makes your chances worse. Chad says it’s the biggest no-no. “Most people that get bitten get bitten while trying to kill the animal.” So don’t do it.
This is a rhombic egg-eater (Dasypeltis scabra). They eat bird eggs, don't have any venom, and have hardly any teeth, making them pretty harmless. Photo by Chad Keates.
4. Keep your eye on it and call for help
If the snake is in your house or in your garden and you really wouldn’t like it to be there, call a local snake catcher. Try and find a contact number you can save in your phone for when you need it. In Makhanda, you can call Chad Keates. He collects them, uses them for his research and then returns them to nature, outside of town where they pose no threat to humans. His number is 083 669 6169.
The important thing when calling a snake catcher is to not lose the snake. Stay nearby (but don’t corner it) and make sure you know where it is so that when help arrives they can find the snake easily. Chad’s biggest problem when going to call-outs is that sometimes the caller loses track of the snake, and he can’t find it. His advice is that you know where it is and keep an eye on it. “If you take your eye off it then your chances of catching it drop exponentially.”
This is a Rinkhals (Haemachatus haemachatus). They're active during the day and you might just find one in grassy areas near water, or on golf courses! Rinkhals venom can be lethal if left untreated. They can also spit venom at your eyes. Photo by Chad Keates.
5. What else you can do
Snakes can be scary, but only if you're not familiar with them. In your free time, why not work to educate yourself about the snakes you're likely to encounter?
nextgenherpetologist.co.za has lists of snakes around Makhanda and in the Eastern Cape, so if you live here, check them out! If you can identify a snake you'll be able to tell whether or not it is a danger to you, and that helps a great deal. Just remember, if you're not sure, rather stay safe, and follow these tips.
This little cutie is a slug-eater (Duberria lutrix). They're absolutely harmless and their diet consists of garden pests. Photo by Chad Keates.
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