Living in the most populated city in South Africa, you’d expect being exposed to potentially dangerous wildlife is something you’d only hear from Americans who think South Africans keep pet lions and use elephants for transport.
But last week, a person living in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg discovered a surprise visitor in his backward. Uninvited guests are bad enough, but when they’re severely venomous reptilians, it’s a whole other story.
A 1.5-metre long snouted cobra.
The Daily Vox took a look at some of the other snakes we may encounter in the seemingly snake-free concrete jungle.
The Daily Vox spoke to Clive Reid from Snake City, a snake wrangler who receives numerous calls per week to collect snakes that have found their way into our homes.
“It’s not often that we find snouted cobras but the most common of venomous snakes we find is the rinkhals. Snake City is only one of many organisations that collect snakes, but at this time of year it’s almost daily that rinkhals has been found,” said Reid.
The rinkhals and snouted cobra are some of the most venomous snakes found in Johannesburg. Both snakes have neurotoxic venom that will cause drowsiness, blurred vision, difficulty speaking and possibly paralysis, which can stop a person’s breathing.
Lucky for most, Reid said snakes such as the rinkhals are more common on the East Rand; places like Springs, Kempton Park, Benoni and Nigel – but can be still be found throughout Johannesburg. The snouted cobra is exceptionally rare.
Johan Marais from the African Snakebite Institute reiterated that most snakes encountered in cities were mostly harmless garden snakes, but that the rinkhals was the most common of dangers. “Though fortunately, the incidence of snake bites in and around the Johannesburg area is very low,” said Marais.
Snakes like the rinkhals are not aggressive, and they’d rather opt to play dead than encounter a human. But prod it and it will defend itself, spitting blinding venom into the eyes. According to Reid, it does everything not to bite people.
Generally speaking, we don’t find cobras and mambas in this region, which account for a few fatalities – the most fatalities every year.
In Durban, people regularly run into garden snakes: spotted bush snakes, brown house snakes, natal green snakes (or variegated bush snakes) and brown water snakes.
However, Joelle Rose Hoareau, a snake-wrangler from Durban, said among the most common snakes people encounter was the Mozambique spitting cobra – a highly dangerous snake that has mixture of neurotoxic and cytotoxic venom. Like the rinkhals, this cobra can spit its venom.
Hoareau said that the venom tends to cause tissue damage if the snake bites you, and will result in temporary – sometimes permanent – loss of vision if the snake spits its venom into your eyes.
“But you tend to not get those in the suburbs – like Durban North – but they’re pretty much everywhere else. Further inland towards Westville and Hillcrest you’ll find black mambas and night adders,” said Hoareau.
The black mamba is among the fastest snakes and is considered one of the most dangerous on earth. It packs a lethal bite that can stop your breathing. But what makes it so deadly is that the amount of venom it injects – it’s significantly more than most other snakes. There’s a reason the black mamba is called ‘death incarnate’.
According to Marais, Cape Town is the city where residents encounter the most snakes.
“It’d probably be Durban or Cape Town. Though I’d probably say Cape Town because they encounter quite a few Cape cobras and puff adders,” said Marais.
The Cape’s most famous and common snake, the Cape cobra, is mostly neurotoxic and affects the respiratory system, nervous system, and the heart.
Each expert The Daily Vox spoke to reiterated that most snakes don’t want to be in human company, just as much as we don’t want to be in theirs. And while some species are more aggressive than others, it’s entirely a defence mechanism reacting to fear of us. Marais said there’s an easy way to deal with meeting a snake in or around your home.
“Don’t try and catch or kill them – that’s how you get bitten. Go online and call a snake remover to take it away. On our website we have a constantly updated list of professional snake removers. In the event of a snakebite, it’s very simple, take the person to the nearest hospital,” said Marais.
Maybe living in Africa is somewhat wild – but our political life is still a lot wilder.