Snakes Alive!

Love them or hate them, everyone seems fascinated by a good snake tale, and I have a few of those to tell.

Following on from my story about the Black Spitting Cobra ending up in a guest loo at &Beyond Grumeti Serengeti Tented Camp, I thought that it was high time to share more stories about these reptiles. Click here if you want to read that story.

Love them or hate them, everyone seems fascinated by a good snake tale, and I have a few of those to tell. Grumeti only features in many of these as that is where I lived for so long. I think that every camp manager has a few stories to tell about our scaly friends, so please do not let my stories make you think that Grumeti is not a place to visit as it is one of the best game viewing areas in East Africa!

The Great Sparring Match

One evening while dining in the boma with some guests, a young lady returned from a visit to the bathroom and announced to the table that while walking down the path back to the boma, she had seen a large black snake and some ‘cats’.

This seemed rather odd, so I picked up my torch to go and investigate. True to her word, there was a big black snake and some ‘cats’. One of the strangest things I have seen unfolded before my eyes. Two Genets (actually from the Viverridae family which also includes Mongooses and Civets) were running down and attacking a Black Mamba.

While you may catch me pulling a Black Spitting Cobra out of a loo, you will not find me getting close to this snake. This is best left to people that are experienced and perhaps a little mad…..it is the most venomous snake in Africa and has a rather aggressive personality. This personality was being tested to the full right before my eyes.

The Mamba would try and make a hasty escape by climbing into a shrub, its head rearing from the top. It would make a lightning fast strike at the Genet in front of it, while the second one would attack from the rear. Between the two Genets, they were successfully biting and retreating which was frustrating the snake no end. The snake would rear up mouth open to reveal the signature black walls inside its mouth and then fixing its eye on one of the Genets would strike again and again, and the Genet would leap to the side, a life and death sparring contest.

The Mamba was about 10 metres from me trying to take refuge within a large shrub at the entrance to the lodge. This snake is really fast and I was caught completely off guard as it turned in my direction, shot out of the bush and started coming straight down the path in my direction. I turned on my heel and bolted. Thank goodness the Genets intervened and diverted it towards the river. I never saw the outcome of this epic fight – they all disappeared from sight into the darkness and I was not going to follow….

Coils of Death

The askaris (security staff) at Grumeti always used to escort me home in the late evening after dinner. I would often walk in to camp in the early evening on my own with my torch as my only weapon, but somehow walking home late at night felt better with a guard at my side. I always had it in the back of my mind that a manageress before me had been gored by a buffalo on her way home.

I would chat with the askaris and often the subject would come up about a VERY big snake that lived close by my house. It was as thick as a man’s thigh they would say, pointing to their legs and well capable of eating me! I would laugh and say they were just trying to scare me as I bid them farewell for the night.

One night, while off duty, I was on my verandah, when a male lion padded past me on his way directly into camp. I reached for my radio to alert security as to where he was. Once the lion had moved past my tent, I stepped off my verandah to check if I could see where he was walking to in order to keep the askaris informed. As I did so, something made me look at my feet, and lying not more than a few centimetres away was a rather large African Rock Python – probably in the region of 3 metres. After I recovered from the initial fright, I got the giggles – so THIS was the snake that would eat me alive – I knew that they were just out to scare me! I radioed the askaris and told them to come and have a look – the man eater snake was at my house – finally come to claim his meal.

They all arrived and took one look at the snake and started to belly laugh. No mama, this snake is mtoto (a little child)! The big one if here we promise – this is a baby!

So, I settled back into my normal day to day routine at Grumeti. Years passed and I was about to leave the lodge – two weeks were left before I was to leave my beautiful Serengeti home for good. I was walking back from the office one afternoon, having just seen the guests off as they left for an afternoon game drive.

As I walked down the path to my room, I noticed a whole herd of impala almost frozen in terror, alarm calling. They were so caught up in what they were watching that they seemed to ignore me. The baboons added to the alarm calls. I thought that perhaps a baboon had taken a newly born impala, or a leopard was passing by from the river.

As I cautiously rounded a tree, a grisly scene unfolded before me. It took a few seconds for me to comprehend what I was seeing. A full grown impala ram was being strangled to death by the biggest snake I have ever seen with my own two eyes an estimate would make it around 7 – 8 metres.

An impala ram averages around 60kg, but they are a lot bigger in the Serengeti and can reach the higher end of the scale at around 75kg. That is a lot bigger than me! The snake had completely coiled around the impala several times and it was in its final death throes.

I radioed the rangers to come and take a look. Unfortunately this was not kind to our python as it was disturbed and let go. A guest took the photograph below and you can see the snakes head had disengaged from the dead ram and it is starting to move away.

I checked again a while later. The ram had disappeared. I went to check if there were hyena or lion spoor nearby – NOTHING! So, to this day, I am not sure what happened to the ram – did the snake come back for it? Anyway, I am glad it had gone for the impala and not me!

Snakes always fascinate. I personally love them as I grew up with a brother that kept them on our farm as pets. On the other hand, I have a friend that will not even look at a book that has a picture of a snake in it. Love them or hate them, there is always a story in Africa that involves these creatures.

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Karen Richards

&Beyond Travel Specialist

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