Snake scientist and rinkhals expert Grant reminds us that as the Spring days warm-up we can expect snakes to come out of hibernation.  Snakes have an important role in Nature and as they prefer flight to fight we need to get over our destructive  fright responses.  

Snakes are definitely a part of any rural environment. Even in urban areas we are sometimes surprised by the localities where we are called out to remove and relocate ‘problem’ snakes. Just last week I was called out to remove a snake from a house in the middle of Salt River in Cape Town. The snake had come through a hole in the fireplace to snack on a rat in the bedroom. The closest ‘appropriate’ habitat is many kilometres away.

We find that often snakes are killed because people fear that the snake is there to hurt them. However, this misunderstanding couldn’t be further from the truth.

Snakes, like us, have tools for survival; for hunting and for defense. They also experience fear, like us, when faced with a perceived threat.

Snakes bite to subdue their prey but have no reason to attack something too large for them to consume, unless provoked. The only time that a snake bites someone is as a last resort; when it feels that it’s life is in danger.

Other defensive behaviours like ‘spitting’ venom (spitting cobra) send the same message, “I fear for my life, don’t hurt me, stay away.” With snakes, a little bit of understanding goes a long way.

What many people don’t realise is that there are often snakes around – we just don’t see them. They quietly go about their business keeping rodent and other animal populations in check while trying to keep themselves alive.

This may not be of any comfort to you but let me just say that the chances of being bitten by a snake a very low when compared with other everyday activities like driving a car for example.

And although the bite of a rinkhals is considered fatal there is still debate as to whether there has ever been a recorded death from a rinkhals bite.

That being said the best thing to do if you or anyone else sees a snake is to stay away. Keep your distance, keep an eye on it and phone a local snake handler. Snakes will NOT chase you.

As far as your garden goes, make sure that there is nothing in your property that resembles snake habitat. Rockeries, grass piles, compost heaps, old branches or garden material, sheeting of any kind or anything that would provide a secure hiding place for a snake. (Editor’s comment: That pile of logs, leaves, a compost heap or building materials also provide a home for geckos, lizards, safe snakes such as slug eaters and toads. I would not like to forgo the opportunity of providing a home for these gardener’s friends.  But I shall keep the local snakeman’s phone number handy.  Sean Boddington of the Reptile Park in Kommetjie 021 783 0547  or 079 522 7408) Photo on RHS of Sean rescuing a mole snake from the Fish Hoek Sportsfields. Read more at: http://scenicsouth.co.za//2012/02/mole-snake-at-noordhoek-sports-fields-gets-new-lease-on-life/

Remember that snakes primarily need two things, food and shelter. By reducing the potential habitat for both the snakes and their food supply you should be able to greatly reduce the chances of an encounter. Rinkhals are particularly fond of frogs. Is there some sort of wetland habitat or pond nearby?

My recommendation would be to get yourself a South African Snake guide and learn about the snakes in your area. Understanding their habits, diet and habitat requirements will help you in figuring out the best ways to ‘deter’ them.

Grant 2012-09-19