With over 350 species of reptiles, South Africa is the most reptile-rich country in Africa. Sanbona Wildlife Reserve is home to a variety of snake species, but they are elusive and difficult to spot, so it is important to keep your eyes peeled when you are on safari, you might be fortunate enough to be treated to a sighting of at least one snake amongst all the other thrilling wildlife to be discovered on 58,000 hectares of unspoilt Klein Karoo.
World Snake Day was on Tuesday 16th of July 2019 and is celebrated by passionate wildlife enthusiasts all over the world. Society has always been fascinated by these beautiful and mysterious creatures. Some cultures in South Africa believe you are privileged if a snake reveals itself to you. It is believed that the snake is a sign of change and is telling you to expect change in your life. However, for most of us, the initial reaction on finding a snake remains fear- shortly followed by an unnecessary need to kill it. World Snake Day is used as a tool to educate the public and inform people about the type of snakes in your vicinity, how best to deal with an encounter, whom to call in case of an emergency and various other interesting and useful information.
Snakes live on every continent except Antarctica and vary from 32 feet long pythons to tiny vine snakes. Only about one-fourth of all snakes are venomous, but all of them would rather avoid human contact if they could. Many harmless snakes have cleverly taken on defence mechanisms whereby they imitate the behavioural and physical characteristics of venomous snakes. When in doubt, do not approach or touch the snake. Most snake bites occur when you try to pick up, move or kill a snake. Observe from a safe distance or walk around them slowly if they are blocking a trail. As we always remind our guests: when you visit a natural area, you are a visitor to the wildlife who live there. As visitors to their territory, we must respect their space and life. Their well-being is our top priority.
Snakes have many ecological benefits, one of them being feeding on several pests, such as: insects and rodents. Most of the time, snakes hide out under rocks, in old logs and in the branches of trees. We cross paths with them when they are looking for a mate, soaking up the sun on a beautiful day or readying themselves to ambush other reptiles and rodents.
Familiarizing yourself with our native snakes can help you feel more comfortable out in nature and spare the life of a harmless snake.
Read on for some interesting facts on a few of the snakes you could encounter at Sanbona Wildlife Reserve.
The Cape Cobra is a nervous snake and quick to take up a defensive posture by spreading a broad hood. They will only bite when escape is not an option.
They are not aggressive by nature, but during the mating season, around midsummer, they show an increase in activity. Its venom is potently neurotoxic causing progressive weakness and may affect breathing within less than half an hour.
If you come across one, keep still or walk away slowly. It will move off once it feels the threat has passed.
The Boomslang is a large, venomous, arboreal snake (meaning it lives in trees). They are generally shy snakes and reach a length of 1.5m long. The male boomslang is considered one of the most venomous snakes in the world. Their fangs are located in the back of the mouth. They do not have any muscles surrounding the venom sack which means they need to bite and actively chew to inject venom.
They were thought to be harmless until a herpetologist in New York, back in the 70s, had one bite him. He, being a scientist, wrote his observations of symptoms until his death a couple days later. Boomslang were then found out to have a hemotoxic venom, which act to break down your red blood cells, which stops blood clotting ability and leads to internal bleeding.
The Puff Adder is a seemingly slow and lazy snake, however, don’t let this fool you. This is the fastest striking snake in Africa, the only one able to strike backwards and it can be aggressive. It is responsible for the most snake-related human deaths in Africa.
The Puff Adder is a master of camouflage with its beautiful patterns and many bites have been dealt when people unwittingly step on them.
They are very fond of lying in the sun; found in all habitats – one of the most widely distributed snakes in Africa.
The non-venomous Mole Snake can grow to an impressive 2m long. It has a characteristically small head and pointed snout, with a firm, tubular body with mature individuals varying in colour from yellow to brown and grey.
Mole snakes hiss loudly when threatened and can deliver a nasty bite.
They live mostly underground but can be seen basking in the sun.
The Brown (or Cape) House Snake is a non-venomous snake that are usually dark brown on top, but the colour varies greatly from almost black through brown to olive green.
The stripes that stretch from the rostral scale through the eye to the back of the head are typically thick and bold.
It is completely harmless and relies on muscle power to constrict its prey.
Snakes might not be on the top of your “must see” list, but hopefully it helps to know that snakes are more afraid of you than you are of them. The guides at Sanbona spend countless hours on training, learning how to handle snakes and snake encounters. View from a safe distance, ensure the snake has a clear exit and most importantly- enjoy the sighting!