Close Encounters

## Margaret and I are both recovering from a crazy week at the Ecological Society of America conference and the incredibly successful Save Snapshot Serengeti campaign, so we’re posting a fantastic story from our regular contributor and Snapshot moderator Lucy Hughes. Thank you all again for helping us to make Snapshot Serengeti so successful. ###

When you live in the African bush you imagine it will be full of close encounters with wildlife like lion, hyena and elephant. It’s true to say there is a fair number of these encounters but in reality it’s the small critters you encounter more frequently. Often these can be far more heart stopping. I am talking about snakes. What’s more, they don’t relegate themselves to the bush; they tend to congregate around your house.

Black mamba in the road.

Black mamba in the road.

My house was a thatch and stone affair that nestled in amongst rocks, very scenic but also perfect snake habitat. Snake encounters were an almost daily occurrence on the reserve and life with them took a bit of getting used to.

My first encounter just weeks after I moved in was right by the front door.  Coming home one day I caught movement out of the corner of my eye and realised I had just walked past a snake sticking its head out of the rock wall. I went hot and cold as my ankle must have been inches away from it. Fumbling with the key I burst through the door and from the safety of its glass watched the now empty hole to see if the snake would reappear. Oh yes, it came out alright, a Mozambique spitting cobra. To cut a long story short Sid the Spitting cobra and I became friends. I didn’t disturb my door sentinel and he didn’t bite me. I regularly saw him peak out of the same hole. Learning to live with snakes is important in the bush. Killing any wildlife is frowned on in a reserve.

Sid, the spitting cobra.

Sid, the spitting cobra.

One night whilst doing the dishes idly gazing out the window the rock wall suddenly seemed to move. Once my brain readjusted to the image I realised a rock python was making its way out of the thatch and down to the ground on a night time foray. Now a 2 meter python in the roof is not a bad thing. For a start it keeps the tree squirrel population down and that in turn keeps the black mambas away (who love tree squirrel snacks).  As long as it’s a small python you don’t worry about it finding its way into your bed at night, a black mamba on the other hand caused me quite a few sleepless nights after I saw it disappear into the thatch.

Spotted bush snake at home in the roof.

Spotted bush snake at home in the roof.

My shower was out doors and had a resident foam nest frog living on a shelf. One morning going for a shower I heard a terrible squealing. A spotted bush snake had my frog and was busy devouring it. It took over an hour to swallow my friend.

Spotted bush snake eating a gecko

I once had a pair of orphaned baby tree squirrels (yes mum fell afoul of a Mamba) When they where big enough I would sit in the garden with them whilst they ran around exploring. The little female was quite brave and was scampering around on the rocks. Next thing I hear a piercing squeal and the little squirrel shot up into a low branch. I raced over and scooped her up and sat with her in my hand for about a minute whilst she breathed her last. A Puff adder sitting in a crevice had struck her.

But for all the horror stories snakes are fascinating things and it is a thrill to see them in action so close.  I would rather they stayed out of my house though, the garden is close enough! When we learn to live with nature it offers us such rewards.

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About ali swanson

I'm an ecologist studying how large carnivores coexist. I spend way too much of my time trying to stop hyenas and elephants from munching my camera traps!

One response to “Close Encounters”

  1. Todd Trisch says :

    Wow, that’s nuts. I saw a black mamba in the Serengeti and you obviously can deal with them better than I would. I really like snakes…but not in my house. Poor frog! Love what you’re doing in the Serengeti by the way. Truly my favorite place on earth. Regards, Todd

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