Part 2…Yikes…We attended a full-day venomous snake handling course…Scary, but highly educational…

 Black Mambas are only black inside their mouths, not on their sleek skin.  They are considered one of the most venomous and dangerous fast-moving snakes in the world. Chris, our instructor held the Black Mamba as we took this photo. Tom handled one of these as shown below.  No, thanks, for me!

“Sighting of the Day in the Bush”

During yesterday’s drive through Marloth Park searching for photo ops, we spotted this Hornbill, one of our favorite birds in the area. 

There are a known 184 species of snakes in South Africa.  In years past 151 species had been identified but now with the use of DNA, additional species have been discovered.

Obviously, not all snakes are venomous.  As for this area, referred to as the “lowveld,” 60% of those species are found.  The lowveld is described as follows from this site: The Lowveld is the name given to two areas that lie at an elevation of between 500 and 2,000 feet (150 and 600 meters) above sea level. One area is in the South African provinces of Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Swaziland, and the other is in southeastern Zimbabwe. Both are underlain largely by the soft sediments and basaltic lavas of the Karoo System and by loose gravels. They have been extensively intruded by granites. Other resistant metamorphic rocks also occur; these commonly appear as low ridges or what seem to be archipelagoes of island mountains. The higher western margins of both areas testify to the degree of erosion resulting from the flow of rivers running east or southeast.”

Tom was using the grabbers to grasp the highly venonmous Snouted Cobra.

In South Africa, you have a greater chance of being struck by lightning than being bitten by a snake.  Nearly all bites are on the extremities.  Annually, between 24 and 37, out of 100,000 population are bitten by snakes.  The mortality rate is between 1% and 2%, resulting in an approximate 98% survival rate.

With these statistics, its evident the likelihood of dying from a snake bite is rare.  However, in most cases, bites occur by accident (stepping on a snake), a surprise encounter while hiking and, when walking on one’s property and, by other chance encounters. 

 Tom bending over to grasp the tail of the Snouted Cobra, keeping the head down in the grass, in order to place the snake in the container.

Many snake bites could be prevented by the proper response when they are discovered.  First off, snakes have no ears resulting in total deafness.  Instead, they respond keenly to vibrations.  That fact is why we’ve always heard when one has a close encounter with a snake, DON’T MOVE…STAND COMPLETELY STILL!  That still holds true today.

What would determine a close encounter? It may be different for many snakes, depending on their striking distance.  To be safe, if a snake is found within your immediate space, don’t try to guess their striking distance.  Instead, STAND PERFECTLY STILL and wait for it to slither away. 

When “capturing” the Black Mamba it is imperative to immobilize the head close to the ground and raise the tail.  Tom managed to do this while it was desperately attempting to escape.  The Black Mamba is the fastest snake on the planet.

If a snake doesn’t sense ANY vibration,  generally it will move away.  Obviously, if a snake is in another room or a distant area, get away as quickly as possible securing your space in a closed area where it can’t enter.  Chris explained, “Don’t bother to stand still if the snake is in the living room and you are in the kitchen!  Just get away as quickly as possible away from the direction the snake is moving.

If a person resides in an area where there are many snakes, it’s wise to have an emergency number available in order to have the snake removed from inside your property.  If it’s in your yard or another outdoor area it will move on…steer clear in the interim.

In Marloth Park, we can call Snake Removal at the following numbers: John Webb, 079 778 5359 or 071 480 6453 or Daniel Louw, 082 574 0186 or Field Security at 082 828 1043.

After over 16 years of snake handling experience, Chris didn’t hesitate to handle the deadly Black Mamba.

In the event of a snake bite there are several vital steps to consider:

1. Immediately call Field Security at 082 828 1043 to arrange for the quickest means of transportation to a medical facility with anti-venom which may be by ambulance or helicopter.  Also, if no response call, Securicon Lowveld at 082 567 2350 or 086 111 1728.
2.  Don’t attempt to “catch” or take a photo of the snake.  This could result in being bit additionally.  Immediate medical care is more important than the type of snake. 
3.  Don’t drive yourself or have others drive you to a medical facility. Typically, trained emergency response staff has means of treating your symptoms en route to an appropriate hospital which ultimately can keep you alive until you arrive. (continued below photo)

Its only through years of training and experience that Chris can handle this dangerous snake with such skill

4.  Do not “cut and suck” the bite wound.  This has been proven to be totally ineffective.
5.  Don’t panic – Although it is impossible to stay emotionally calm, one must attempt to stay physically calm.  The more the bite victim moves about, the faster the venom moves throughout their bloodstream.
6.  There’s no benefit to using heat or ice.
7.  Do not use a tourniquet unless you are three or four hours from medical care and then, it’s done so as a last resort.

A Black Mamba doesn’t have black skin as most assume.  Only the interior of its mouth is pitch black.

There are two types of anti-venom used in South Africa today:

  • Polyvalent which contains antibodies of several types of snakes and is effective for most venomous snake bites.
  • Monovalent which contains antibodies for only one type of snake in South Africa – the Boomslang.
Chris and Tom were all smiles with the Black Mamba.  I’m glad my job was to take photos not handle the snakes, although I did take the classroom course and the test. 

Oftentimes, once the patient is in the hospital, the medical staff will immediately start a variety of life-extending procedures while they wait to determine if anti-venom is necessary. A small percentage of patients are allergic to the anti-venom which may result in severe anaphylaxis, which can be more deadly than the snake venom itself and may lead to death.

A the end of the course around 4:00 om, the Black Mamba was elongated while Chris held its mouth in place.

 It’s easy to become terrified when reading this information but, for all of us in areas where snake bites are a possibility, it’s imperative to know.  As laypersons, we cannot guaranty all of the information provided here today and yesterday would ensure safety from venomous snake bites. 

Please seek further information or attempt to educate yourself to the best of your ability by attending a course such as we’ve presented over these past few days or, other resources that may be available in your area.  For the lowveld, contact, Lowveld Venom Suppliers at 082 372 3350, by email at or at their website:
Marloth Park Honorary Ranger Sandra took a Facebook “live” video during the “hands-on” portion of the course.

Our special thanks to Chris and his staff and Marloth Park Honorary Ranger Sandra, who facilitated an extraordinary experience we’ll never forget and have been excited to share with our worldwide readers.

In October, 2013 in Kenya,  Tom handled several non-venomous snakes  which may found here.

In the event you missed yesterday’s Part 1 of this story, please click here.

Have a safe and bountiful day!


Photo from one year ago today, March 13, 2018:

Bob, our amazing landlord and new friend came running to tell us the Kookarburros were on his veranda.  We couldn’t believe our eyes for this up close view of these huge beautiful birds.  Within a week they were coming to visit us, eating ground beef out of my hand. For more photos as we settled in to Fairlight, Australia, please click here.

Part 1…Yikes…We attended a full-day venomous snake handling course…Scary, but highly educational…

Puff Adders are commonly seen in Marloth Park.

“Sighting of the Day in the Bush”

On Saturday morning, before leaving for the full-day Venomous Snake Capture and Handling Course, we had a total of 22 visitors in the yard including 13 kudus, 6 warthogs and 3 bushbucks.  In order to be on time for our classes, we had to leave while they were still there.

On Saturday, we headed to the Marloth Park Municipality Offices boardroom at Henk van Rooyen Park to attend the Venomous Snake Capture and Handling Course being offered by highly qualified and experienced snake handler, Chris Hobkirk of Lowveld Venom Supplier and his staff.

This is an example of a nonvenomous snake mimicking the venomous Puff Adder.  It is a baby Rhombic (common ) Egg Eater, harmless, not a Puff Adder. 

The event was beautifully orchestrated by Marloth Park Honorary Ranger Sandra Miler Dill-Franzen who coincidentally lives two doors down the road from us.  A few days earlier we’d dropped off payment for our participation in the course at a cost of ZAR 950 (US $80.55) per person.  There were a total of 18 trainees.

When placing a snake into a container, it’s imperative the container includes newspaper or some type of scraps which may prevent the snake from “jumping out.”  When they see they have a place to hide, they may be more cooperative.

Why did we choose to take this course?  We weren’t necessarily considering becoming officially certified volunteer snake handlers who take calls to remove snakes from resident’s homes. 

Chris is an excellent presenter both in content and in interspersing humor to keep the audience engaged.  The five hours we spent in the classroom learning the information and taking a test (no results yet) flew by.  With my short attention span, I was pleasantly surprised by the easy flow of the interesting information.

However, based on our long-term stay in Africa, we felt such an education would prove to be highly beneficial in the event we encountered snakes while we’re on the continent.

Chris showed this slide as an illustration that there are countless varieties of venom.

Four years ago while in Marloth Park for three months, we had a face-to-face encounter with a venomous Mozambique Spitting Cobra as shown in this post.

Chris’s company, Lowveld Venom Suppliers is involved in many aspects of snake handling, including milking the venom to be used in manufacturing antivenom.

After attending this important course, we now realize we handled that snake encounter on the veranda in a dangerous manner, particularly me, who bent down to take photos, not realizing it was a spitting snake. Whew!  We sure dodged a bullet!  Lesson learned!

Bottled water, snacks and lunch were provided throughout the day.  Since I had prepared a meal for our dinner that night, we chose not to eat anything.

That doesn’t mean we can’t take photos of snakes that “visit” but at least now we know how to identify them.  We would have proceeded with considerably more caution had we known. Knowledge is everything, as we all well know

I was one of only two females in the classroom.

One of the most frightening aspects for most tourists coming to Africa is their fear of snakes and insects. We both have the fear of insects under control and are able to identify many venomous insects we may encounter.  The goal here in Africa is not to kill insects, all of which play a vital role in the ecosystem.

As usual, Tom read every word of the “hold harmless” agreement we both had to sign in order to participate in the course.

Snakes, on the other hand, may terrify visitors to the point they won’t hesitate to drive over them on the road or… kill them when found in or near their holiday homes.  This human behavior can result in loss of life if handled carelessly or incorrectly.

Tom, preparing to capture a Puff Adder, one of the most dangerous snakes in Africa.“The Puff Adder (Bitis arietans) is a venomous viper snake species found in African savannah and grasslands. The species is probably the most common and widespread snake in the continent.  When disturbed the snake will coil into a defensive S-shaped posture and hiss loudly, hence its common name “Puff adder“. This is used as a warning signal, it’s best not to ignore it, you really don’t want to find out why. “

Snakes, like all other creatures in the wild, play a valuable role in nature and regardless of their ability to protect themselves using their deadly toxins in the process, this wonderful course opened our eyes to understand that snakes are not intentionally seeking to bite humans, a misconception many may possess.

Although Puff Adders have a reputation for moving slowly, generally they won’t bite unless agitated as is the case with most venomous snakes.  Often people are bitten from accidentally stepping on them or encountering them unexpectedly…or foolishly trying to handle them without proper knowledge.

In Chris’s detailed classroom course, that kept us inside in air-conditioned comfort until 2:00 pm (with periodic breaks and an included lunch), we learned more about snakes than we ever imagined possible in one day.  The snake-handling portion of the course was conducted outdoors on the grounds from 2:00 to 4:00 pm. 

Chris handling another highly venomous snake, the Boomslang.  Males are green and females are brown.  However, it’s nearly impossible to determine the sex of most other snakes when both genders are typically identical in appearance. “The Boomslang (Dispholidus typus) is an extremely dangerous, venomous snake species found in sub-Saharan Africa in the central and southern regions of the continent. The boomslang is most abundant in Botswana, Swaziland, Namibia, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe, but the species has been reported as far north as southern Chad and Nigeria, and as far east as eastern Guinea.”  However, they are found here in South Africa as well.

Not only did we learn about the anatomy of a variety of snakes, we learned about the various types of toxins which include: neurotoxic – nerve acting venom; cytotoxic – cell destroying venom; haemotoxic – blood acting venom.

Tom and Jim stood contemplated their next “capture.”  To the far right is our new friend Pat who was overseeing a voter registration booth in the background.

Any bites from venomous snakes (or sprays from spitting cobras) may be deadly, especially without immediate medical care.  Chris explained that recently, a victim of a black mamba snake bite was dead in five minutes.  However, many have survived with medical care initiated within 30 minutes of the bite.

Chris shared a first-hand story when years ago, he was bitten by a Jameson’s Mamba and lives to share the story after utilizing his fast thinking and diverse knowledge to steer him in the direction of a successful recovery coupled with exceptional medical care.  But, this isn’t always the case.

All of these bins contained crumpled newspapers and were clearly labeled as to the type of snake.  The first two he showed us were not venomous but one must assume all snakes are venomous.  Some non-venomous snakes will “imitate” venomous snakes in appearance and behavior in an attempt to ward off predators.  Clever snakes!

Are we less fearful of snakes after the course?  In some ways, yes, especially in realizing snakes generally are fearful of us and just want to be left alone.  More on this in tomorrow’s post including what we learned to do in the event of encountering a venomous snake and, when being bitten, much of which is entirely different than many of us may have assumed. 

We’ll share the various types of antivenom and their potential effects, both good and bad.  Plus, we have a shocking video we made of a black mamba!  Please check back!

German proverb:  “Look before you leap, for snakes among sweet flowers do creep.”


Photo from one year ago today, March 12, 2017:

View of Sydney from the ship on disembarkation day.  We were headed to drop off our bags and head to immigration to deal with our “illegal” status.  For more, please click here.