How Concerned You Should Be About Running Into The Snakes

When it comes to snakes, Africa is a herpetologist’s dream and ophidiophobia nightmare, home to a wealthy and diverse population of slithering reptiles, including many that can kill humans.

Precise statistics and facts on this subject are not always easy to find or verify. But according to herpetologist Kate Jackson, about 600,000 people in Africa are bitten by venomous snakes every year, and 20,000 of those people die–a staggering number, compared with the approximately 7,000 eaten and 9 to 14 who perish annually from snakebite in America, or the 3,000 bitten and 1 or 2 who die in snake with Australia. Worse, the African stat might be well below the actual reality. One West Africa study found that only half of snake-bitten natives went to a medical facility for treatment; the other half stayed in their villages and relied on “traditional remedies.” This means that half of all snakebites were unreported, and therefore not included in the official records. If this tendency applies even approximately to the rest of rural Africa, the actual number of snake-caused injuries and fatalities per year must be shockingly high, far worse than is usually acknowledged or admitted.

indian-cobra-500 * You might also like: Do You Really Know About Scorpions Poisonous?

What can You Do to Lower substantially the Risk of being Bitten?

What do these arming facts mean regarding danger-potential for visiting hunters? How concerned or worried should you be about the possibility of a serious-to-fatal snake bite when you visit Africa?

First, it’s helpful to put the overall snakebite numbers in perspective. For instance, we must remember that Africa is a vast continent, not a country or a unique, snake-filled habitat. As someone once said, Africa is not a place; it’s thousands of sites. If we focus solely on the hunting countries and the lands that hunters are most likely to visit, we instantly eliminate a great deal of dangerous snake country. We can also mostly forget about some lethal species. The saw-scaled or carpet viper, for example, is considered the deadliest and most dangerous snake in its habitat range, where it allegedly bites and kills mom humans than any other serpent. But this snake occupies only the northern portions of Africa. For the most part, anyone hunting south of Somalia and Ethiopia need not worry about them. This same process of elimination is also right regarding specific habitats. As we will see, some the “deadly African snakes,” are simply not likely to be in places where hunters go and are therefore of minimal or zero concern.

We can also mostly forget about some lethal species. The saw-scaled or carpet viper, for example, is considered the deadliest and most dangerous snake in its habitat range, where it allegedly bites and kills mom humans than any other serpent. But this snake occupies only the northern portions of Africa. For the most part, anyone hunting south of Somalia and Ethiopia need not worry about them. This same process of elimination is also right regarding specific habitats. As we will see, some the “deadly African snakes,” are simply not likely to be in places where hunters go and are therefore of minimal or zero concern.

As we will see, some the “deadly African snakes,” are simply not likely to be in places where hunters go and are therefore of minimal or zero concern.

Another aid to perspective is the fact that the vast majority of snakebites happen to natives who live and work in snake country. Their constant proximity and sometimes primitive living conditions put them at risk in a way that just doesn’t apply to most tourists and visiting hunters. Natives are also exposed to danger all year long, including the hot and rainy seasons when snakes are most active and sometimes invade dwellings and settlements in large numbers–a time when the risk and incidence of snakebite rise precipitously.

Depending on whose taxonomic system you follow, there are at least thirty-four species of venomous snakes occupying one or more of the southern Africa countries and Tanzania. At least fourteen of these species are on record for causing human deaths. However, some these snakes simply are not common or likely threats to hunters on safari. The arboreal or tree-dwelling snakes, for example, are rarely a problem. These include the two species of twig snake, the three species of green mambas, and the widely found booms-lang. Because of its highly-potent venom, the boomslang is often listed as one of Africa’s deadliest snakes, but in fact, it is not aggressive unless provoked and usually tries to warn enemies away by inflating its neck in a threat display. Bites are uncommon and are typically the result of people trying to handle or rapture the snake. This is true also of the green mambas and the twig snakes. Occasionally bites occur when an unseen arboreal snake is bumped into as it hangs from a small tree branch or shrub, which is why it’s always wise in Africa to scan flat or overhead branches before walking near or beneath them.

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These include the two species of twig snake, the three species of green mambas, and the widely found booms-lang. Because of its highly-potent venom, the boomslang is often listed as one of Africa’s deadliest snakes, but in fact, it is not aggressive unless provoked and usually tries to warn enemies away by inflating its neck in a threat display. Bites are uncommon and are typically the result of people trying to handle or rapture the snake. This is true also of the green mambas and the twig snakes. Occasionally bites occur when an unseen arboreal snake is bumped into as it hangs from a small tree branch or shrub, which is why it’s always wise in Africa to scan flat or overhead branches before walking near or beneath them.

Because of its highly-potent venom, the boomslang is often listed as one of Africa’s deadliest snakes, but in fact, it is not aggressive unless provoked and usually tries to warn enemies away by inflating its neck in a threat display. Bites are uncommon and are typically the result of people trying to handle or rapture the snake. This is true also of the green mambas and the twig snakes. Occasionally bites occur when an unseen arboreal snake is bumped into as it hangs from a small tree branch or shrub, which is why it’s always wise in Africa to scan flat or overhead branches before walking near or beneath them.

The Deadliest Snakes

Because of its highly potent venom, the boomslang is often listed as one of Africa’s deadliest snakes, but in fact, it is not aggressive unless provoked and usually tries to warn enemies away by inflating its neck in a threat display. Bites are uncommon and are typically the result of people trying to handle or capture the snake. This is true also of the green mambas and the twig snakes. Occasionally bites occur when an unseen arboreal snake is bumped into as it hangs from a small tree branch or shrub, which is why it’s always wise in Africa to scan flat or overhead branches before walking near or beneath them.

Another frequently mentioned African snake is the gaboon viper. This is a big, fearsome-looking creature, thick-bodied, 4 to 61/2 feet long, with a large, triangular head. It has the longest fangs (up to 3 inches) of any snake and carries the heaviest venom load. This viper’s camouflage patterning makes it hard to detect when it is lying on the forest floor among dead leaves. The East African species occupies tropical rainforests and woodlands. Fortunately, this big, bad-looking snake is unaggressive toward humans and is often described as “passive” in temperament. Bites usually occur only when the snake is intentionally provoked or accidentally stepped on. A close cousin to the gaboon is the rhinoceros viper or river jack, which frequents rainforest and riverine forests in the west and central Africa. As its common name suggests, the river jack is often found near or in tropical waterways. This is a most unusually-colored and brilliantly-patterned snake that averages 3 to 4 feet in length. It is not aggressive, though if provoked it can launch a surprisingly fast strike and can hit a target up to half its body length away. But limited distribution, restricted habitat range, and passive temperaments make the gaboon and rhino vipers a little (though in some specific situations a possible) risk for visiting hunters.

A close cousin to the gaboon is the rhinoceros viper or river jack, which frequents rainforest and riverine forests in the west and central Africa. As its common name suggests, the river jack is often found near or in tropical waterways. This is a most unusually-colored and brilliantly-patterned snake that averages 3 to 4 feet in length. It is not aggressive, though if provoked it can launch a surprisingly fast strike and can hit a target up to half its body length away. But limited distribution, restricted habitat range, and passive temperaments make the gaboon and rhino vipers a little (though in some specific situations a possible) risk for visiting hunters.

Fortunately, this big, bad-looking snake is unaggressive toward humans and is often described as “passive” in temperament. Bites usually occur only when the snake is intentionally provoked or accidentally stepped on. A close cousin to the baboon is the rhinoceros viper or river jack, which frequents rainforest and riverine forests in the west and central Africa. As its common name suggests, the river jack is often found near or in tropical waterways. This is a most unusually-colored and brilliantly patterned snake that averages 3 to 4 feet in length. It is not aggressive, though if provoked it can launch a surprisingly fast strike and can hit a target up to half its body length away. But limited distribution, restricted habitat range, and passive temperaments make the baboon and rhino vipers a little (though in some specific situations a possible) risk for visiting hunters.

A close cousin to the baboon is the rhinoceros viper or river jack, which frequents rainforest and riverine forests in the west and central Africa. As its common name suggests, the river jack is often found near or in tropical waterways. This is a most unusually-colored and brilliantly patterned snake that averages 3 to 4 feet in length. It is not aggressive, though if provoked it can launch a surprisingly fast strike and can hit a target up to half its body length away. But limited distribution, restricted habitat range, and passive temperaments make the baboon and rhino vipers a little (though in some specific situations a possible) risk for visiting hunters.

A close cousin to the baboon is the rhinoceros viper or river jack, which frequents rainforest and riverine forests in the west and central Africa. As its common name suggests, the river jack is often found near or in tropical waterways. This is a most unusually-colored and brilliantly patterned snake that averages 3 to 4 feet in length. It is not aggressive, though if provoked it can launch a surprisingly fast strike and can hit a target up to half its body length away. But limited distribution, restricted habitat range, and passive temperaments make the baboon and rhino vipers a little (though in some specific situations a possible) risk for visiting hunters.

A close cousin to the baboon is the rhinoceros viper or river jack, which frequents rainforest and riverine forests in the west and central Africa. As its common name suggests, the river jack is often found near or in tropical waterways. This is a most unusually-colored and brilliantly patterned snake that averages 3 to 4 feet in length. It is not aggressive, though if provoked it can launch a surprisingly fast strike and can hit a target up to half its body length away. But limited distribution, restricted habitat range, and passive temperaments make the baboon and rhino vipers a little (though in some specific situations a possible) risk for visiting hunters.

A close cousin to the baboon is the rhinoceros viper or river jack, which frequents rainforest and riverine forests in the west and central Africa. As its common name suggests, the river jack is often found near or in tropical waterways. This is a most unusually-colored and brilliantly-patterned snake that averages 3 to 4 feet in length. It is not aggressive, though if provoked it can launch a surprisingly fast strike and can hit a target up to half its body length away. But limited distribution, restricted habitat range, and passive temperaments make the baboon and rhino vipers a little (though in some specific situations a possible) risk for visiting hunters.

Which Snakes Pose the Greatest Potential Threat?

Let’s start with the cobras.

A nasty group of reptiles, cobras are part of the apidae family, famous for their potent venom, their sometimes aggressive nature and their intimidating spread-hood displays when angered. Several African species were particularly dangerous, given their ability and tendency to spray venom into the eyes of a potential enemy. These “spitting” cobras include the blackneck cobra (Najamgricollis), the Mozambique cobra (N mossambica), the red cobra (N pal-lida), and the ringhals (sometimes spelled rinkhals, Hemachatushemachatus.)

The blackneck cobra is relatively large, up to 9 feet long (though averaging 4 to 7 feet); it is fairly widespread, occupying much of sub-Saharan Africa to northern Namibia and Zimbabwe; it is easily aroused to aggression and can spray twin jets of venom accurately (and repeatedly) up to eight feet away. Its venom is potent and unusually tissue-destructive (more on this in a moment). These cobras are known to enter human habitations at night looking for rodents, lizards, and other prey. Many human victims are bitten while they sleep. Blacknecks occupy a broad range of habitat types, from dry scrub and semideserts to thick woodlands. They are absent only in dense rainforests and true-desert regions.

The Mozambique cobra, though smaller (3 to 5 feet in length) is an even more dangerous spitting snake, common in savanna areas from Tanzania to South Africa. It can spray venom up to 10 feet, and is initable and easily provoked. Its venom is considered more deadly than the blacknecks. Adults are known kr nocturnal visits to human habitation, though these snakes are also encountered outdoors in daylight, often in proximity to water. They will sometimes play dead if overwhelmed, then strike suddenly when someone attempts to pick up the “dend” snake.

Ringhals are smaller close cousins to the cobras and behave in much the same manner as the other spitting species. They will also play dead at times. Ringhals are found mainly in parts of South Africa and also in areas near the Zimbabwe-Mozambique border.

The red spitting cobra occurs primarily in East Africa (including northern Tanzania), inhabiting dry savannas and semidesert regions, and is often encountered near water.

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All of these spitting cobras have an unusual venom that contains some of the neurotoxins (affecting the nervous system) typical of the Hapidae/cobra family, but which is primarily loaded with cytotoxintissue-destroyers more usually found in vipers like the puff adder. Bites from the spitting cobras cause severe damage to the bitten area or limb. High pain, swelling, bleeding, severe blistering, and extensive tissue destruction (necrosis) commonly occur, sometimes leaving victims disfigured or maimed for life. Venom sprayed into the eyes causes immediate pain and burning, at times temporary partial or full blindness, and possible long-term damage including permanent blindness if not washed out thoroughly with water. One hunter on record had a spitting cobra rise spread-hooded before him as he was in the middle of a hands-and-knees stalk He had the presence of mind to immediately dose his eyes. A half-second later he heard a loud hiss and felt liquid hit his face and eyelids. He rolled to the side and scrambled backward, keeping his eyes damped shut as he called for help. He instructed his hunting companion to pour water over his eyelids and had him a sponge and dry the area thoroughly. Only then did he open his eyes. His quick, instant reaction worked. He suffered no pain or damage and was able to continue with the hunt.

One hunter on record had a spitting cobra rise spread-hooded before him as he was in the middle of a hands-and-knees stalk He had the presence of mind to immediately dose his eyes. A half-second later he heard a loud hiss and felt liquid hit his face and eyelids. He rolled to the side and scrambled backward, keeping his eyes damped shut as he called for help. He instructed his hunting companion to pour water over his eyelids and had him a sponge and dry the area thoroughly. Only then did he open his eyes. His quick, instant reaction worked. He suffered no pain or damage and was able to continue with the hunt.

Among non-spitting cobras, two stand out for specific mention. The Cape or yellow cobra (N nivea) is said by some to be the most deadly cobra in Africa, possessing a neurotoxic venom which is allegedly as potent as the deadly blac.k. Mambas. Acute symptoms develop in as little as 30 minutes after a bite, and without proper antivenin treatment can lead to fatal respiratory paralysis in 2 to 16 hours. This snake is 4 to 51/2 feet long and is active throughout the day, and at dawn and dusk. It is common in dry savanna and semidesert regions of South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia.

Lastly, the Egyptian cobra (N ‘vie) is a large (4 to 91/2 foot) snake that hunts mostly at dawn, dusk, and night. It is known to enter human habitations and is found in savannas, in and near agricultural fields and in semidesert regions throughout northern and West Africa, east to Kenya and Tanzania. This snake is often fund near water, and though not overly aggressive it will rise, spread its hood, and strike if it feels threatened. The venom is a highly potent mix of neurotoxins and cytotoxins. Claims that a bite from an Egyptian cobra will cause “death due to respiratory failure in just 10 minutes” are no doubt exaggerated. Even so, this is another potentially lethal reptile that is well worth avoiding.

Corning next issue: A dose look at the two deadliest snakes in Africa, plus ways to substantially reduce your risk of getting bitten by an African snake.

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