Stories and Traveltips

ID #1250

This is a Snake, Black Mambas, Southern Africa.

In many wildlife programs, it is noted that Australia is home to many of the most poisonous snakes in the world. However, having personally encountered a black mamba in the bush, the latter tops my list as the most awe-inspiring snake in the world.

There are two species of mambas in Southern Africa – black and green. Black mambas are found in hot, dry subtropical areas. One frequently hears of snakes stretched from one side of a dirt road to the other so they undoubtedly grow quite large. Furthermore, they are fast – apparently fast enough to keep up with a horse and rider. In addition, they are very poisonous since they are able to inject several drops, each of which is sufficient to kill a human within minutes. Lastly, they are aggressive when their territory is invaded. Incidentally the name is misleading – they are grey rather than black. They have eyes that are large in relation to the size of the small, coffin-shaped head. In addition, the inside of the mouth, which is normally held slightly agape, is pitch black. As one might imagine, their appearance is intimidating.

I encountered a black mamba on the banks of the Selati River on a farm near Phalaborwa. One winter, I was walking along the riverbank, which was strewn with dead leaves, with the farm-owner. Suddenly we heard a movement in the leaves a few paces ahead. Startled by our arrival, a largish (8-10 ft) mamba, which had been sunning itself on top of the leaves, retreated to the safety of a small bush a few yards away. On reaching the bush it curled itself in amongst the stems and turned to face the intruder with a “come hither” look – come hither and you will bite off more than you can chew! The malevolent look has remained with me ever since. Afterwards the farmer noted that, while hunting the previous year, he had run into a mamba in the veld. Apparently it killed five of his hunting dogs before escaping up a nearby tree.

I related this story to a friend, Ian Withers, owner of the Knysna Elephant Park. He noted that the skin of a 23-ft black mamba hangs on the wall of the pub in the Babanango Hotel in Zululand.

How the skin of this monster ended up on the wall of the pub is interesting. Apparently a local farmer regularly dipped his cattle and, each week, one of his animals died. Initially he thought that his herders were the culprits and insisted that all carcasses be burnt instead of being eaten by his staff, which is the usual practice in the area. Yet his cattle continued to die. One day, while standing next to the dip tank, he noticed what appeared to be the stem of a cabbage tree (kiepersol) move, striking one of the animals as it passed by. The snake had been standing upright, poised to strike, next to the tank! The farmer fetched his shotgun, dispatched the animal without further ado and hung the trophy in the pub, where it remains to this day.

Ian noted that they grow even larger in countries north of South Africa and believes that a 31-ft black mamba was once killed in Angola.

Black mambas are thus very large, fast, poisonous and aggressive snakes. In the words of Crocodile Dundee: “That’s not a snake – THIS IS A SNAKE. It is thus surprising how few people are bitten. And the chances of surviving a mamba bite are improving. Apparently the venom attacks the nervous system and victims die because they are unable to breathe. Victims who receive suitable treatment immediately after being bitten stand an increasingly good chance of surviving the ordeal. Alan McIver NFBlack

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Last update: 2014-02-28 22:23
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.7

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