Mmegi Online :: Snakes and the city
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Last Updated
Wednesday 19 September 2018, 14:07 pm.
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Snakes and the city

Slithering unseen in the summer heat of Gaborone are six highly venomous snakes that are associated with human fatalities. Encounters between residents and this top six are becoming more common as the city expands into the reptilesí territory. Staff Writer, MBONGENI MGUNI reports as the capitalís snake season begins
By Mbongeni Mguni Fri 12 Jan 2018, 15:43 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Snakes and the city








The names themselves strike terror into the heart of the average listener.  Black Mamba (mokwepa), Snouted Cobra, Mozambique Spitting Cobra (collectively kake), Boomslang (logwere), Twig Snake (legonyana) and Puff Adder (lebolobolo).

These are the top six venomous snakes crawling around the capital and causing much concern as peak snake season, which runs from January till about April, kicks off. The African Snakebite Institute in South Africa categorises these six as ‘very dangerous’, meaning they have caused human fatalities.

These names have haunted most people’s childhoods to the extent that many avoid even mentioning them.  Many must even be dreading why they started reading this article!

The names, however, are everyday language for Sean Taylor, a qualified snake removal and relocation enthusiast, who has 60 successful captures and releases under his belt.

Because the non-venomous outnumber the venomous in most countries, snake experts will encounter more of the former than the latter. In Taylor’s three years on the job however, he has encountered more venomous than non-venomous.

What began as a hobby when he was younger, catching, feeding and releasing snakes in his 20s in Mafikeng (SA), has grown into a labour of love of sorts. 

Using his own resources, Taylor responds to calls in the city and its environs, removing snakes of all types and freeing them safely into the wild, at no charge.

He has qualifications from institutes in South Africa and works with the blessing of the Department of Wildlife. Gaborone, a fast-growing young city carved out in the valley between Kgale and Oodi hills, is witnessing greater numbers of snake/human encounters as people and developments increasingly eat away at terrain previously the domain of these reptiles.

Over the years of rapid growth, new suburbs, office developments and recreation areas have pushed snakes out from their grounds and the reptiles often push back, turning up in yards, homes, offices and elsewhere.

“What’s happening is the expansion,” Taylor explains. “Some years ago, there was no Riverwalk, Game City, Airport Junction, Block 10, Gaborone North or Phakalane. “People are saying they are finding more snakes, but we are taking away their natural habitat.

“Right here in our office (Commerce Park) we found a Mozambican Spitting Cobra outside the door the week after I finished training.”

The bites of Gaborone’s top six have stomach-churning impact, from neurotoxic affecting the nervous system, to haemotoxic which cause the victim to bleed even from the eyes, to cytotoxic which is flesh eating and often causes loss of limbs. Princess Marina Hospital has anti-venom for most of these bites.

Taylor has a full-time job in electronics and security, but on any given day, he is often called out to help rope in a reptile that has been spotted. The enthusiast has built up a steady following on Facebook where he shares pictures and videos of the snake removals.

Social media, he says, has helped in that more people understand that a cost-free option exists to get rid of unwanted reptile attention. That, Taylor says, fulfils one of the goals he had in mind in starting on the snake removal and relocation business.

The idea, he explains, is to enhance knowledge of these reptiles, their protection, ease the public’s

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fears and promote acknowledgement of snakes’ role in the ecosystem. This effort also involves training, which Taylor provides free of charge for those who get in touch.

“I found that there was a need for people to know more about them, as they were being killed,” he explains. “For many people, the only good snake is a dead snake. However, snakes have a role in the ecosystem and an important one too.

“One Mozambican Spitting Cobra I caught in Kgale actually threw up two rats it had eaten!”

The culture of fear and hatred of snakes, however, is difficult to break through. Many people’s instinct when confronted with a snake is to kill it. Snakes in African culture represent everything from bad omens to evil spirits.

There are numerous dominant myths around snakes and their behaviour, which many take for facts. One is that a snake can ‘seek revenge’ for the killing of another, or that they strike for no reason.

Busting one myth, Taylor explains that snakes do not move around in pairs, except when mating. Also, if you want to discourage snakes from entering your yard (and then your house), keep it very clean with no rubble where they can hide or that would encourage their prey (such as mice, frogs) to multiply.

Another important fact is that snake repellent is a waste of money and time. Also, if you are five metres from a snake, it will not attack or approach you. Even Mozambican Spitting Cobras have a range of three metres. Acknowledging the difficulty of breaking through such fear and hatred, Taylor says snakes do their best to avoid and run away from human contact. And, they do not ‘revenge’.

“Imagine you are sitting in your office and someone comes in with a knobkerrie. The only way out is the window, but that’s far above the ground. You will have to fight your way out to safety.

“If someone comes at you with that same knobkerrie in the bush, you have room to run away and avoid contact. “That’s how snakes are as well. They will try and avoid the situation, but may strike out if cornered.”

As peak snake season begins, the snake enthusiast has some pearls of wisdom for the capital’s residents.

“If you see a snake, get everyone to a safe area, including your pets, but try to keep an eye on where the snake is, so that an expert can locate it for removal.

“If the snake is in a room, close that door. If it goes into a hole, cover it if you can, but be very careful because it could be a snake that spits.

“When outside at night, always keep a torch handy and wear closed shoes, not sandals.

Watch what you pick up and don’t just pick something without looking around first. “Always remember that when it’s hot, snakes will look for cooler places, so be careful about open doors and windows. Above all, keep your yard as clean as possible and remove all rubble.” With land being a finite resource, Gaborone residents will do well to accept that their reptile neighbours are not going anywhere anytime soon.

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