Monday, 6 October 2008

Close Encounter of the Reptilian Kind



I recently came across this thoroughly enjoyable article by Bawinile Ngcobo which she penned for the North Coast Courier, (local KZN North Coast Paper) wherein she excellently describes her personal encounter of the Reptilian Kind, the day she visited Ndlondlo Reptile Park. Although the date referred to at the end has long since past, the courses are run regularly, so if interested contact Dawn, hope you find it as interesting as I did.

“Its skin felt smooth and slippery and when it started to move against my hand, my heart started pounding. All I could think was that it was going to turn around and strike me and that I was going to die!

On May 19 I touched a snake for the first time at the Ndlondlo Reptile Park. I was petrified at first but after the second and the third time, my fear had subsided and I realized that the experience was not that scary.

Why do most people, myself included, have such a great fear of snakes?

Ndlondlo Reptile Park owner Neville Wolmarans said fear is natural, but it becomes a problem when people are paranoid about snakes.

“Encounters with snakes are to be expected while living on the North Coast. In most cases if you see a snake they are just passing through the area and you don’t have to kill them. It is also important to be able to differentiate between the dangerous and the harmless snakes.

“On the North Coast the dividing line is the N2 freeway. We rarely get green mambas on the western side of the N2 and we rarely get black mamba’s on the eastern side of the N2.”

One of the dangerous snakes that North Coast residents must be on the lookout for are Forest Cobra’s. Neville said the population is moving south all the time.

“Twenty years ago they were common in Zinkwazi and recently we have found them in Westbrook.”

The Mozambique spitting cobras are mostly found to the West of the N2 and rarely on the Eastern side. They are well-known for spitting at the faces of their victims. Boomslangs, Vine snakes and night adders are also common all over the North Coast.

“The night adder is not very dangerous but its bite is painful. The wound will swell up and leave a blue bruise.”

Neville said there are also many harmless snakes that can be found in North Coast gardens and homes.

First on the list is the Herald snake. These small snakes range from 150mm to about 600mm long. Their colours are extremely variable, but are mainly light brown to dark grey. The distinguishing feature is that the head appears to be darker than the rest of the body. These snakes are very common in gardens where they hunt frogs. Neville said they are often confused with black mambas, which are much bigger.

The brown house snake is also a very common harmless snake. Their colour is also variable, from light brown to dark brown and even an olive colour. They are attracted to houses where there are birds and bats present.

“They have lots of white or yellow speckles and lighter or darker spots on their body. The distinguishing feature is the white line above the eye on either side of the head,” said Neville.

The other harmless snake found on the North Coast is the Bush snake. There are four common species, which are all green. They are all long, slender snakes of about 1 metres in length. They are about as thick as a pen and are common in houses with lizards and geckos.

Bush snakes are easily distinguished from green mambas and boomslangs by their long thin tails. Green mambas and boomslangs have thick tails that end abruptly.

Neville said the main distinguishing feature between dangerous and harmless snakes is their size.

“Dangerous snakes are a metre plus long and are thick while the harmless snakes are under a metre long and have thinner, more slender bodies.”

He said people who have a fear of snakes should come to the snake park and familiarize themselves with the snakes.

For those who are interested in learning more about snake identification and how to treat a snakebite, the Reptile Park will run a course on May 31. For more information about the course contact Dawn on 084 240 3318 or e-mail to dawn@telkomsa.net.

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