During my evening walk with the dogs we came across two snakes in the dunes below Peer’s Cave which is two more than is normally the case. This suggests that snakes are out and about and much more active than usually, which is not unusual in spring and autumn.
The first snake was just at the side of the path, and was discovered by a very suprised labrador who jumped three feet sideways. Black in colour, the snake was not aggressive; was slim and probably over a meter in length (although this was difficult to judge as it was coiled up). It didn’t display a hood and definately not a puff adder of boomslang. Rinkhals are not supposed to be in the area any more so my deduction was that it was a mole snake. These are constrictors who prey on small rodents, and although they have a set of teeth that can give a nasty bite are non venemous.
However, I am not enough of an expert to test the theory, so we left the path to the snake and found an alternative route.
And there is the thing, snakes are very common in the area although sightings quite rare. We are not food to the snake and so any bites will be defensive. The best policy for snakes is treat them all as venemous and stay out of their way. Your main problem is with identifying what snake you are in front of. Cape cobras have a variation of colour from a sandy brown to black, with every combination in between; they can be mono coloured or patterned and so identifying them is very difficult. Mole snakes are harmless but how do you know that it is not a dark coloured cobra?
So the best policy is distance and avoidance. If you spend enough time in the outdoors then you will come across snakes, especially in the early mornings and late evenings, however a few simple precautions can keep you safe:
- If you plan to go through long grass then make sure you are wearing heavy boots and long trousers, tread carefully and carry a long stick.
- Don’t step over logs or boulders, step onto them so that you can see where you are about to step. Puff Adders especially like to bask in such places, they also stay very still when disturbed rather than trying to slither away- until you step on them and they try and bite you.
- Watch your step, whilst we all like to look at the view, birds and plants, it is very easy to not spot a snake at the side of the path.
- Don’t shove your hands into holes, burrows, cracks in rocks etc without knowing what is in there.
- If you are out and about at night (remember, you need permission to be on Table Mountain National Park land at night) carry a good torch and really watch your step.
- Don’t creep about, snakes sense vibration in the ground and know you are coming long before you can see the snake. Most snakes will dissappear at the first suspicion of the approach of a large animal.
- Keep your dogs under control, a bite from several snake species in the area will kill a dog very quickly. Some dog breeds are naturally cautious, some are bred to attack first and ask questions later probably resulting in the death of the snake and the dog.
- Do not under any circumstances handle a snake in the wild.
I’m no first aid expert and so am not going to try and give advise about that, just google snakes and you will get any number of pages of advise. One thing to remember is that snakes use a lot of energy to produce venom, which they really require to catch food, they don’t want to waste it on you, because they can’t eat you. A snake is more than likely to give you a warning first in the form of a dry bite. If this is the case then you have been lucky, heed the warning and seek medical advise as soon as possible. You can’t take the risk though, because you might get a nervous snake who will pump as much venom as possible into you.
Remember, whilst snakes are the stuff of a lot of people’s nightmares they are a valuable part of pest control. They eat things that can breed very quickly and be a real problem if not controlled such as rats and mice. Killing snakes means an increase in the populations of these pests. We really need snakes so don’t kill them under any circumstance.