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Norman Doak

Of all creatures one encounters, snakes, sharks and crocodiles fill the average person with a feeling of dread and fear far beyond the level of threat posed by the creature, so long as one understands the habits, quirks and special needs of the beast.

More people die from Lightning Strikes than all the above put together.

Snakes have always had the most contact with us and we need to be prepared for any confrontation with them, especially when walking in the bush.

There are certain facts which need to be understood by anybody leading groups of people on walking excursions :

1) NOT ALL SNAKES ARE VENOMOUS. The African continent boasts about 160 different species and sub-species. Of this number, about 55 are technically poisonous. About 14 to 16 of these are thought to be hazardous and dangerously poisonous to man.

2) One has difficulty in identifying the dangerous from the non-dangerous at the best of times. When consumed with fear it becomes an impossible task. Add to this the fact that individuals of the same species can differ in colouration due to age, sex and area making quick or easy identification difficult.

3) The greatest saving factor is that different species are well separated by areas of geographic preference. In the "highveld grassland" we can expect certain species to be present. The poisonous species can be represented by the PUFFADDER, the RINKHALS and other COBRA species. Of these, the RINKHALS is the one most likely to be encountered and is probably the easiest to identify quickly due to the white band around the throat which gives it it’s name. As with all cobra-type snakes, it is a snake which rears up, extends a "hood" below the head and hisses loudly when confronted. It "spits" a spray of venom aimed at the eyes of an enemy (YOU).

4) ADDER species tend to curl up and not move away at your approach. They have good camouflage and look like fallen leaves in a footpath. They strike low down at ankle level or fingers when climbing and feeling for handholds.

5) All snakes have a tendency to become active after rain or a cold spell and this is when we need to be most vigilant. Beware the log or boulder in the path. Step ONTO IT and step off away from the hidden side to avoid the snake curled up in the sun on the other side or perhaps hunting rodents or lizards which are hunting insects breeding in the leaf litter caught up by the log.

6) Always walk in single file through long grass or well-wooded areas.

7) FREEZE on meeting a snake and allow it to move off without hindrance.

8) The majority of snakes have underdeveloped visual capacity which is often limited to movement only so they will strike at moving targets (YOU). If left alone they will move off by themselves. If the snake has reared up at a distance of a few meters, FREEZE and then move quietly away, leaving it to move off in peace.

9) Snakes have a diet which does not include humans. Their venom paralyses

their prey and assists with digestion as the venom has chemical properties which cause the breakdown of the prey.

10) Snakes are primarily deaf but are very sensitive to vibrations and will detect

an approaching person or animal through vibrations in the ground.

11) Snakes have a good sense of "smell" which is actually more a sense of taste as they "smell" their prey by darting their forked tongue in and out of the mouth. The tongue gathers up air particles, the tips of the tongue are then inserted into glands in the roof of the mouth to determine information gained.

12) Some species, notably the RINKHALS feign death. Never handle a snake which is apparently dead as it could suddenly "come alive" and cause a problem in the hands of a person holding it.

13) Snakes perform an extremely important function in the environment and all should be treated with respect and appreciation of their role.

14) Snakes are territorial and will respect the territories of other snakes. This means that the non-venomous snake will enjoy a territory and keep away other snakes, even a venomous snake. This is why we should not kill harmless species around our homesteads as they have the function of protecting us from venomous species, not to mention the elimination of mice, rats and frogs.

15) The different species of poisonous snakes have different types of venom and these cause widely differing symptoms. We need to understand the treatment methods associated with each and recognize the SYMPTOMS of envenoration caused by a bite. This is a chapter on it’s own and needs to be presented in as simplistic a form as possible to the lay person.

16) The following chapters are devoted to SYMPTOMS, TREATMENT and the Management of snakebites

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