demo at an institution for the
strange! Who would have expected to find Maré Ascott and Yvonne
Hiscock looking adoringly into the eyes of a python as it is draped
around their bodies? Not the men, no, it was the women who couldn't
keep their hands off the creature. Why? As for me, I love seeing snakes
in the wild but bring one near me and
I'll run a mile.
About 20 people attended a fascinating talk and demo given by Snake
Getters, Gary and Tracy, at the windy (as usual) Enviro Centre in
Glenda Kemp (a.k.a.
|Gary started off
demonstrating a 2-metre long albino, Burmese python named
Idiot. Gary described how these snakes feed explaining that it's a myth
that they dislocate their jaws, instead they apparently have four parts
to their jaw. Their bodies are extremely strong and later, as I touched
him I could feel and see sinuous muscle below the cool, smooth skin.
Apparently they don't see colour but instead see infrared and sense
movement, picking up the heartbeat of their prey. When they attack they
alter the pressure on the prey to make the heart stop, and then they
consume the victim. "They pooh like a horse", said Gary, "And eat two
to three rabbits each week". Pythons are the most primitive of all
Paula's son Gideon - "I do this every day"
Gary went on to tell
a few tales of how and where they rescue snakes. Sadly it's man who
causes the biggest habitat destruction by building houses, roads etc.
Snake Getters are running out of places to release rescued venomous
snakes, especially the Cape cobra.
Apparently 100 000 or
more snakes are killed each year in South Africa with only 3-5 people
being killed by snakes, as opposed to at least 11 616 fatal road
accidents last year.
The next snake was smaller and thinner than Idiot,
an Aurora house snake. This snake is non venomous but is a
constrictor, feeding on lizards and mice, growing to between 50-80cm
with a longitudinal stripe or patterned body.
The next specimen was a 1.2m mole snake.
The markings of these snakes can range from salt and pepper speckled to
black spots on green, brown or silvery black but the most significant
identifying feature is the arrow-pointed head, apparently so that the
snake can burrow. Mole snakes are common and are aggressive and will
hiss, but they aren't poisonous (venomous), but they will bite,
particularly in sandy flats. Of interest is that they aren't
territorial and therefore won't build nests.
is bright yellow on top and black underneath, has large eyes and is
very fast. It's rear fanged and its venom is a very potent haemotoxin,
destroying arteries in humans and taking approximately 48 hours to kill
Good news is that
it's a docile snake and is an uncommon cause of deaths because it is an
elusive creature and quick to move away.
Claire and her iguana friend
As with sharks, snakes have received bad press
over the years and contrary to what many people believe, a snake is
more likely to get out of the way of a human being and will not
confront or chase after them. Although each species of snake has a
method of killing prey, the temperament will change from one snake to
another, as with human beings.
The next snake was a puff adder with a
large head and its cheeks filled with cytotoxic venom, its skin rough
and keeled in order to grip rocks. With Tracy's help Gary inserted a
pen into the snakes mouth and showed the 2.5cm retractable fangs. This
snake is the cause of 10 000-15 000 deaths on the African continent per
year. If bitten by a puff adder, the bite is not necessarily fatal and
may only necessitate the amputation of a limb. The venom spreads
rapidly through the body and apparently the pain is indescribable. The
puff adder is named because it puffs when annoyed. Its short fat body
is pure muscle, like a taught elastic band, the strongest snake.
Apparently when a puff adder sheds its skin, the snake goes blue, even
its eye caps.
Even Gary doesn't
look too sure of his friend Idiot
Gary proclaimed that
the Cape cobra is the finest example of fauna in the Western Cape and
described it as death-on-wheels. It's a very nervous snake and feeling
a vibration, will strike spitting neurotoxin with uncanny accuracy,
causing a slight sting, swelling and necrosis around the bite, this in
turn causes paralysis of the heart and lungs and eventually death
approximately 30-min after the bite.
The Cape cobra has a flat head and fat
cheeks (full of neurotoxic venom), and can range in colour but is often
gold. It has small fangs at the front of the mouth and will make a
double puncture wound. It will strike without warning and signs of
attack are tingling of the lips and toes. These snakes are highly
Treatment: Apparently doctors spend
approximately 15-min of their six-year medical studies on snakes and
the treatment thereof. It is therefore important for us, as hikers, to
be able to identify snakes and to know the protocol for treatment.
Forget about suction devices or tourniquets. Most
bites will be to a hand or foot and come from a cobra or puff adder,
these snakes use 10 times the venom they need to use for a kill. Use a
pressure bandage on the bitten limb, not tight as though for a sprain,
maybe even a splint. Keep the limb below the heart. It's important to
keep the person calm and to get them to hospital as soon as possible,
preferably by carrying them.
The venom passes through the lymph system.
Tip: Apparently snakes don't
like Jik or ammonia so a strip of these should deter them from entering
your property. When you come across a log blocking your path, step onto
it not over it. Logs are favourite places for puff adders to rest.
If you see a snake, leave it alone and he will
leave you alone. Move away in the opposite direction.
Tracy looks more
relaxed (women - go figger)
and Photos by Karen
An evening arranged
Denise Hopkins at the Enviro
Summer in Cape Town means
sunsets, sundowners, south-easters... and snakes.
you gonna call? Snakegetters!
The slithery reptiles are
making their presence felt after winter but a
Cape Town couple has urged people not to kill them but rather to call
them so they can remove them.
Gary Montague-Fryer and Tracy Dawson have started Snakegetters, a
service by experienced volunteers with permits from Cape Nature
Conservation to catch and release snakes in safe areas.
Montague-Fryer said most people had no idea who to call if they wanted
a snake removed so usually landed up slicing its head off with a spade.
"The idea behind
Snakegetters was to pull together snake catchers from all areas under
one banner to work together."
idea behind Snakegetters was to pull together snake catchers from all
When Sunday Argus arrived at the couple's Parow home for an interview
this week they had just returned from an Ottery petrol station with a
They were called out twice again in the
Dawson said they were busy mostly in the hot summer months.
Last week they rescued a Cape cobra from under a boy's bed in
Mitchell's Plain and a boomslang from a shed on a horse farm in
Kleinvissershoek - a feisty one that didn't take kindly to being moved.
not coming to kill them and their whole families'
They also took a two-metre boomslang out of a Table View house after a
teenager found it in a tree and took it home to play with.
"We were called out after his granny tripped over it."
Dawson said there was a lot of superstition
"It's very disheartening to be called out when a snake has already been
killed but the people are too frightened to move the body."
She said people needed to realise that snakes were actually doing them
a favour by eating rats and mice.
"They're not coming to kill them and their whole families like some
Meanwhile, the couple, who are also members of the Cape Reptile Club,
often work together as a team if it's "something big and nasty", but
can usually handle most captures by themselves.
They cover most of the northern suburbs but keep in touch and refer
cases to fellow catchers in other areas.
Sometimes it's as simple as picking up the snake and putting it in a
box while other times it can be an hours-long chase fraught with danger.
They are besotted with the reptiles and keep 12 as pets, including a
four-metre-long Burmese python called Biscuit who will double in size
and slithers around their garden for an hour of exercise on most days.
'We just have to watch the cat," Montague-Fryer says.
Then there's an albino Burmese python that has lost its ability to
strike because it was too inbred.
"I have to take a rat and put it in its mouth but nine times out of 10
he bites himself. We've nicknamed him Idiot."
Snakegetters can be reached on 021 939 9558 or 082 414 8292. The
service is free but donations towards petrol and related costs are
appreciated as they are all volunteers.
A Cape Town snake catcher has warned that the illicit trade in Western
Cape snakes is on the increase with many being sold to overseas buyers
for thousands of dollars.
He said Cape Cobras were going for as much as $2 000 and puffadders and
boomslangs could fetch between $400 and $500. Sales were often made via
"Most people aren't bothered especially if the snakes are venomous but
it's going to become a big problem, much like the illicit trade in
Montague-Fryer said the market for snakes in the East was huge.
"There are markets with literally hundreds of thousands of dried snakes
sold for medicinal purposes including for virility."
He said the Cape cobra was sought after because it had the most potent
venom of all the cobras.
"The only snake more venomous is the boomslang."
Montague-Fryer said the rinkhals or spitting cobra had practically
disappeared from the Western Cape.
"I just hope that is not going to happen to the Cape cobra," he said.