Henriette Lamprecht – Conflict between snakes and people in urban areas is a problem Windhoek shares with many cities around the world. Surrounded by farms and nature, the capital has a high prevalence of snakes in and around residences and industrial sites.
But, says Namibia’s snake whisperer and catcher, a snake will never deliberately attack a human.
“On the contrary, snakes are shy animals that will only attack in self-defence,” says Francois Theart.
He has made it his mission to educate and bust myths on his slithery friends.
Francois is the man behind Snakes of Namibia and has been removing snakes from urban areas in Windhoek since 2012.
In 2015 a partnership was formed with the Namibia University of Science and Technology (Nust) to better understand the conflict between snakes and humans in Namibia.
Part of this research project involved obtaining a research permit to guide protocol for the capturing and relocation of snakes in Namibia, as well as determining the root cause of human-snake conflict.
According to data collected between August 2015 and August 2018, 500 snakes of 23 different species were removed from homes, gardens and industrial sites in Windhoek.
Results of data collected during this period were compiled in a research manuscript which was submitted and is currently under peer review.
“Snakes don’t chase people and normally don’t move in pairs,” Francois explains.
“If a snake is killed, his mate won’t come looking for him. Snake ‘repellents’ like Jeyes Fluid and garlic and geraniums will not keep them away!”
According to Francois it is “highly unlikely” that a person will die within seconds or minutes after a snake bite.
“Antivenom is the only medium and way to successfully treat a poisonous snake bite. To cut or suck a snake bite won’t help,” he warns.
With “snake season” in full swing, Francois advises to steer clear of building rubble.
“Things like rock gardens, compost heaps and bird cages serve as food sources and hideouts, and should therefore be avoided if possible.”
Francois also suggests steering clear of using dense bushes and creepers around the house – especially against walls and close to open windows.
“Make sure any grass around the house is short. Keep the area under low-hanging bushes and shrubs clean to ensure there is no suitable hiding place for snakes.”
If you’re living on a plot or farm, Francois warns against keeping small livestock, especially chickens, close to home.
As many snakes are active after sundown, rather wear closed shoes and take a torch with on your walkabout after dark, Francois advises.
“Look where you’re going and make sure you’re walking on rocks and logs, rather than around it. “Picking up wood for your braai at sundown or at night is never a good idea!”
Also, don’t get your hands into places, holes and hideouts where a snuggling snake may have found his forever home.
If you do come across a dead snake, Francois warns, even the tiniest scratch of its tooth can still inject venom.
“Some snakes, like the Anchieta’s cobra, play dead when they feel threatened, and will bite the moment it gets the chance,” says Francois.
He warns never to try and catch or kill a snake.
“You will without a doubt get bitten if you try!”
If you are from the tribe of Namibians who love spending time outdoors, rather wear a jean made of thick material, as well as hiking boots covering your ankles.
Also wear sunglasses to protect your eyes against the spitting cobras found in Namibia.
Most common snakes:
1. Puff adder: Mainly nocturnal (active at night) animals, puff adders are short, stubby snakes with triangular shaped heads distinct from the rest of the body. Puff adders have cytotoxic venom (destroying cells and tissue).
2. Western Barred spitting cobra (Zebra cobra): Easily identified by the black crossbars encircling the body, they are nocturnal snakes that actively hunt for prey. When provoked they will spread a dark hood and spit their venom. Zebra snakes have potent cytotoxic venom which causes intense pain, swelling and necrosis.
3.Common boomslang: Mostly active during the day and spends most of its time in trees and shrubs. The boomslang has a short, stubby head with large eyes. The colour varies; males are often bright green with black edged scales, while females are light brown to grey. They are highly venomous.
4. Anchieta's cobra: This is Namibia's largest cobra and is a non-spitter. The head is pointed and hardly distinct from the rest of the body. Juveniles are yellow above and below and a broad black band encircles the neck. Adults darken to light or darkish brown as they age. They are more active during late afternoon and early morning. Highly venomous, however, very shy and bites are very rare.
5. Black mamba: A long, agile snake with an elongated coffin-shaped head and a grimace. Active during the day, when threatened will raise a third of its body off the ground, spread a small hood and will often gape - exposing the black inner lining of the mouth. Highly venomous.
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