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Spitting snake shocks family


Certified snake catcher Dawie Griesel, who was called to the house to remove the cobra, said the experience had been a rare opportunity for him

Picture: Danie van der Lith

DESPITE being a shocking discovery for a Kimberley family, a magnificent – but highly poisonous – black spitting cobra, believed to have caught a lift to the Diamond City with unsuspecting travellers returning home from holiday, has left local snake handlers and wildlife enthusiasts buzzing with excitement.

Hadison Park resident Frans Odendaal said that he had been at his family home in Swann’s Way on Wednesday morning when his daughter-in-law made the alarming discovery.

“I was in the backyard when she came to tell me there was a snake in the TV room,” Odendaal said yesterday afternoon.

“Apparently, she had been reaching for the remote when she suddenly noticed it.

“As I went to investigate, I noticed that this was not a species familiar to me so I decided to call for help rather than attempt to get it out of the house myself.”

He added that while he was not generally fearful of snakes he was extremely cautious around them and was mindful of the potential danger they can pose.

“After seeing the snake, the first thing my daughter-in-law did was to make sure that her children, aged one and seven years old, were taken out of harms way. Kids and snakes may sometimes think that they can be friends but that doesn’t mean this type of relationship needs to be encouraged.

“The whole time while I waited for help to arrive the snake and I were eyeing each other out and it kept spitting at me.

“Some of the venom even hit me on the cheek and while it burned a little bit, I’m glad it wasn’t in my eyes.”

Certified snake catcher Dawie Griesel, who was called to the house to remove the cobra, said the experience had been a rare opportunity for him.

With the lethal venom of the jet black serpent drizzling down the window of its enclosure, the only barrier separating Griesel from a blinding dose of poison to the face, the registered member of South African Snake Rescue yesterday described this callout as a one-in-a-million opportunity to get up close and personal with one of the animal kingdom’s more spectacular specimens.

“The snake was very agitated and spat at me continuously,” Griesel said at the McGregor Museum, where the reptile is currently being kept.

“I had to wear protective goggles and my shoes were soaked with venom by the time we had the reptile safely contained.

“We don’t really get spitting snakes in this area, so that already made for a unique experience, but this is also an absolutely beautiful snake which made this a chance in a million.”

Griesel said that he had received a multitude of calls to assist with the removal of snakes over the festive season as the hot and dry weather conditions had resulted in a noticeable increase in their presence in the area.

He added that while there were good reasons to be cautious of venomous snakes, these animals remained largely misunderstood by many people, often resulting in them coming to unnecessary harm.

“There are a lot of poisonous snakes in this area, especially puff adders, which are very common and extremely dangerous. However, there are also many that pose no risk to people.

“In most cases even the venomous varieties will not attack unless they feel threatened, so the risk that they actually pose is not as great as many believe.

“Sadly, people have this impression that these animals are so dangerous that they need to be killed on sight, rather than caught by a registered snake catcher to be dealt with humanely.”

Odendaal suspects that the snake may have been a stowaway from a neighbour’s recent holiday, an assumption that experts believe to be accurate.

According to the CEO of the African Snakebite Institute, Johan Marais, black spitting cobras are indigenous to Namaqualand and can be found near Cape Town, along the West Coast and as far inland in the Northern Cape as the Augrabies Falls.

He added that for one to be found in the city was unusual but not entirely unheard of as snakes are often transported long distances by unsuspecting travellers.

“This snake was probably a hitchhiker and caught a lift with unsuspecting holidaymakers,” Marais said yesterday.

“Quite often, people will collect firewood and travel home with it, never realising that there is a snake in the pile. It also happens that snakes find somewhere in the vehicle and curl up without the driver suspecting anything.”

Marais, the author of “A Complete Guide to Snakes in Southern Africa” and renowned expert on the venomous reptiles, said this variety generally grew to an average length of about 1.5m and was easy to distinguish by its shiny, black scales and spitting action.

He emphasised that due to their shy nature, human fatalities as a result of their venom had not been recorded but this did not mean that these snakes needed to be approached with less caution.

“Black spitting cobras are known to be very shy which is why they very rarely bite people,” he explained. “This doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous as they have a cytotoxin (cell-killing) that is definitely potentially lethal to humans.

“Actually, it is the fact that they don’t often bite people that makes them more life threatening.

“Most patients who are bitten by any poisonous snake are given a poly-antivenom which incorporates the antidote to the toxins of many of Southern Africa’s more common varieties including, adders, mambas, rinkels and others. Because these particular cobras don’t often bite people, their anti-venom is not included in this standard formula.”

Meanwhile, the spokesperson for the Northern Cape Department of Environmental Affairs, Lesego Pule, encouraged members of the public to educate themselves on how to identify the various snake species indigenous to the area, adding that recent social media posts claiming that these animals pose a substantial threat to humans were misleading, unjustified and reckless.

“We have actually found that snakes tend to be far more busy towards the end of summer as at this time of year it is too hot for them to be overly active,” said Pule. “There are social media reports circulating that warn the public of the apparent danger they are facing due to greater activity among snakes, but these claims are simply not accurate.

“It is important to remember that snakes are more scared of us than we are of them and are very unlikely to attack a person if left unprovoked.w

“Most species from this area aren’t even poisonous and we would like to encourage the public to become familiar with the various types we find here as it is far easier to gauge the threat if you know what species you are dealing with.”