The almost universal fear of snakes can lead to their unnecessary, sad demise, when they wander into human territory — usually, attracted by the rodents who also congregate near human settlement for some easy pickings! They’re a useful presence, in fact, to keep said rodents down.
Being the unapologetic “bunny hugger” that I am, you’ll have guessed that I make a point of not killing snakes. Snakes have lived a peaceful, useful life in most Zimbabwean gardens I’ve inhabited, and I and my pets have lived to tell the tale. Mambas and cobras and brown house snakes have been left to their own devices, quietly minding their own business, and only occasionally seen.
Out in the bush, I’ve had many encounters with poisonous snakes, some up close and personal, and in every case, the snake and I have respectfully moved away from one another — in opposite directions. My closest call was a massive black mamba sunning itself on a whaleback in the Matobo Hills — walking quietly and alone, with one more step I’d have stood on this handsome specimen, for it blended so well with the granite I did not see it till literally about to stand on it! Contrary to the myths about the supposed aggressiveness of this particular species of lethal snake, I and said mamba, both getting the fright of our lives, made off in respectful opposite directions! No sooner this, than I had a sudden face to face encounter with a boomslang — with the same mutually respectful result.
Last week, I was taken somewhat by surprise when, returning from kitchen to sitting room, I saw a medium sized snake behind the sofa. It looked somewhat the worse for wear — it was on its back and there was a small amount of blood near its head. Was it dead or alive? One must never assume! Next to the snake was one of our cats, looking pleased with herself — though there may have been no connection at all! We’ll never know how this snake came to be there — the nearby cat flap in our front door may have been its point of entry, either in the jaws of a feline predator or not, but after carefully touching the snake with a broom, and identifying it, as it righted itself, very much alive, as a black mamba beyond any doubt, we immediately feared for the fate of the other cats. Would a would-be snake assassin, soon succumb to mamba venom?
What next to do? From a sensible distance, we debated. We phoned Mike Schmolke, the snake catcher, but didn’t get a reply, it being 11pm, and being people who plead for the lives of snakes on human turf and express disapproval for wanton snake murder, it was necessary to live our principles! The snake was alive, albeit, not all that strong. It might or might not survive, but we decided to give it a fighting chance. Evidently distressed, it was regularly opening and shutting its mouth, revealing the typical near-black colouration of this species inside.
Just because a creature is venomous, does not make it our enemy. A snake’s venom simply makes it an efficient predator — and we are not its prey! The simple rule regarding how to deal with snake encounters is to treat them with respect and caution, and move away, which is exactly what they will do too. It’s when cornered and hence feeling threatened, that a mamba, or any other snake, will react aggressively.