With summer on our doorstep and every outdoor adventure we take, there is a chance of encountering Snakes in Cape Town. In this post, I use my farming and guiding knowledge with the help of some experts from the Cape Reptile Club and Cape Snake Conservation to put our nerves at ease as well as give some advice on what to do in a worst case scenario. In reality, you have more chance of having a car accident on the way to your adventure than being bitten by a snake on your adventure.
Balancing the Ecosystem
As a nature guide, you are taught to have a respect for animals and their place in the ecosystem. In fact, humans are the only living beings that kill for fun. Snakes like all other creatures have a place in the ecosystem. For example, snakes can get into small spaces for mice and rats where domestic animals like cats cannot. One snake can eat a whole generation of mice in one sitting. Therefore they have a specific purpose of balancing our ecosystem or else we would be up to our knees in rats and mice and many other creatures that also cause unease.
Being below humans on the food chain, snakes are terrified of us. People claim that snakes have chased them when actually it was making a run for its hole. When a snake is in our path or on our trail it is just trying to regulate its temperature out of the shade.
Uncommon Snake Bites
Snakes are the masters of camouflage and will always try to get away. The majority of snake bites happen to people who try to catch or kill snakes. In fact, most snake deaths are people in rural areas who have tried the above and have no knowledge to get themselves to the hospital.
The first thing a snake will do if we get in their way is let us know about it. For example, A Cobra will flare up with a hood, a Boomslang will puff up a third its size bigger, and a Puff Adder will make a hissing noise. It does not take much common sense to put some distance between you and the snake at this point. Just give it its space and it will move away.
Snake experts at Cape Snake Conservation do not know anyone who has been bitten by accident. Fortunately for us adventurers; no hiker, trail runner nor mountain biker has ever been bitten while walking, running or riding passed a snake.
If any of the snakes we have here in the Western Cape bite us, there is more than enough time to get to a hospital. If you do get bitten get to the hospital as soon as you can. There is no need to panic. Staying calm and keeping the victim calm actually slows down the venom flow.
The Dos and Don’ts of Snake Bites
|Expose the bite and remove any clothing, watch or jewelry near the area||Cut the bite open|
|Move as little as possible and try to keep calm||Squeeze the bite|
|Immobilize the limb or area bitten||Try and suck the venom out|
|If far from help, use a crepe bandage and bandage from the site of the bite towards the heart thus slowing the venom flow. DO NOTdo this for a Puff Adder bite as its venom causes swelling.||Cut the blood supply with a tourniquet|
|Maintain victims airway and use CPR if unconscious (highly unlikely)||Use alcohol, potassium permanganate or self-administer anti-venom|
|Call for help or get to the hospital as soon as you can||Wait to see what happens|
|Try to identify the snake by taking a picture at a safe distance||Kill or capture the snake. In most cases, this is against the law|
|If venom gets into the eyes, rinse with water||Rub eyes|
Venomous Snakes on the Western Cape Peninsula
Instead of going through all the snakes you may encounter it is more useful to know what to look for in a dangerous snake.
Habitat: Fynbos. Juveniles are yellow and adults vary in color. A mole snake is often confused with a Cape Cobra but the defining difference is with the shape of the head.
Habitat: Sand/Stone. Camouflage with yellow backward pointing chevrons.Makes a hissing sound when alarmed. Fat and moves like a caterpillar until frightened then side winds away quickly.
Habitat: Trees. Unmistakable big eyes. Docile and rarely bites.
I reiterate. Snakes do not just bite people. Despite what popular media says, they will only bite when there is an imminent threat. So please do not try killing, capturing or even getting a selfie with a snake. Taking a snake to the ER with you will chase the medical staff away so your best bet is to keep calm and move along.
Barking up the Wrong Tree
The reason dogs are more often bitten is because they will sniff down a snake’s hiding place or show aggression causing the snake to naturally defend itself and strike. Dogs show the same symptoms as humans to snake bites but of course being smaller bodies will need to be taken to the vet with more urgency. Through the capable hands of the experts at the Cape Reptile Club, you can have your dog trained to keep away from snakes.
Snake Pictures courtesy of Cape Snake Conservation.
Many thanks to Elroy Arendse for his knowledge and insight. For more information on snakes and removals contact Cape Snake Conservation.