Thought until recently to be locally extinct Rinkhals have been sighted in Somerset West, Gordon’s Bay with unconfirmed sightings in the Table Mnt National Park . The search is on for more information and sightings.  Researcher Grant Smith with the City of Cape Town’s Biodiversity Management Branch believes that it is possible that there may still be Rinkhals in the South Peninsula especially in proximity to our dams and wetlands. Why!because Rinkhals particularly enjoy toads and frogs.  Don’t tell the ToadNUTS!!   But do keep a lookout when walking in our mountains close to dams – you may be rewarded with a rare sight.   Rinkhals also eat lizards, rodents, other snakes, birds and their eggs.

The Rinkhals (Hemachatus haemachatus) is a unique snake as it shares traits with both adders and cobras.  Like the adders it has keeled scales and it gives birth to live young.   However, like the cobras it is front fanged and has the ability to spread a hood. In addition, the rinkhals is able to ‘spit’ venom from its fangs as a defence mechanism which, along with its hood, is why this snake is often mistakenly referred to as a type of spitting cobra.

Even those not exactly fascinated by snakes agree that the Rinkhals is charismatic.  It is a relatively small snake averaging about a metre, although larger specimens up to 1.5 m have been recorded.  It has striking markings which vary greatly throughout Southern Africa.  The characteristic ring around its neck (hals in Afrikaans) gives it its name.  It is one of the few snakes that shams death as a defence strategy. Lying with head twisted and tongue sticking out it sometimes attempts a theatrical pose to convince an aggressor that it is no longer fair game.

In the Western Cape this snake has been poorly documented and with no official records from the greater Cape Town area in over ten years the Rinkhals was thought to be locally extinct.  Surprising for a particularly resilient species!!.  In Gauteng, for example, marked by extensive urban sprawl they are still common.  Thus, a project was initiated: firstly to determine if and where the Rinkhals occurs in the Western Cape and secondly to look at the reasons for its rarity.

The research has been a great success demonstrating that the Rinkhals is not locally extinct and may even be present in areas where it was not previously recorded.  The research is by no means over as there may be many underlying and unknown factors resulting in the numbers of this interesting and valuable species declining.  One of the aims of the project is to increase public awareness about the Rinkhals so that the general public can assist in its conservation. 

NB! NB! We need to remind ourselves that snakes are generally scared of us and for more reasons than we have to be scared of them.   If you have the privilege of encountering a Rinkhals just back away slowly. They can spit so give yourself about three metres distance from the snake. If possible take a photograph and email it to Grant, contact details below.  Rinkhals will not chase you and if you give them space they will move off to safety.

Please report any Rinkhals sightings to Grant Smith on 084 328 1001. If he cannot get through on the day  he will get hold of someone who can.  You can email Grant at rinkhalsrelic@gmail.com if you have any further questions.

Edited version of text by Grant Smith

KimK Nov 2010