In the 7 years that I have been in this house I have only ever seen a live snake in the garden once and that was a very small boomslang (a timid but venomous tree snake) that did not wait around to be examined. So at lunch time when my domestic servant pointed out a largish charcoal-coloured snake in the rockery I was intrigued. My first priority was to get Kharma out of the way as I had no intention of finding out if she was snake-savvy or not. Dogs often are snake aware and Gary, whose farm I visited last weekend, has a ridgeback that is adept at killing snakes. My mother had a Jack Russell that thought it was a snake killer but on two encounters with cobras came off second best with venom in its eyes. My mother washed the dog’s eyes with water and gave it antibiotic eye drops and it recovered just fine. Cassie, my first dog (see Canine Chronicles on the right) was bitten on her face by what could only have been a puff-adder when I was living in the Chinhoyi area. After a couple of hours she looked more like a Shar Pei than a labrador but she recovered fine after I took her to a helpful farmer who gave her a big shot of penicillin (all the vets in the area were at a party). The next day she had cortisone injected into the bite area and after 5 days I couldn’t tell she’d been bitten. She lived another 13 glorious years without incident.
I told Kharma to get inside the house. She thought she was being scolded and sulked off down the verandah. I asked her nicely and she obeyed. I called the farm manager who said he didn’t have a shotgun handy but would come and have a look. I phoned Dave who knows about snakes but he didn’t answer. Gary seemed to think it could be a cobra or a black mamba but I was almost, but not quite, certain the latter don’t occur around here. The difference is important; cobras are not particularly quick or aggressive and mambas are both quick and aggressive. A bite from either can be fatal.
I caught a cobra by the tail once but I did have a major advantage on it. It was on a smooth concrete floor in a flower packhouse and couldn’t get any grip. I wasn’t sure what it was but knew that very few snakes can climb up their tail so just picked it up by the tail and put it in a fertilizer bag. I do know people who will catch black mamabas but they are fleet of foot and quick of reflex which I am most certainly not.
The farm manager arrived and was none-the-wiser as to what snake it was (it was uncooperatively hiding its head behind a rock). Some more farm workers arrived and looked dubiously at the snake and one went off to find a stick with which to dispatch it. I offered to go and get my shotgun which is kept at work as required by the licence. Dave phoned back as I got to the pickup and said it was almost certainly an Egyptian/snouted cobra. I was called back to the front of the house and the snake had been killed; it was a cobra. Not a big one and I felt a bit sad that it had come to this. They have been around a lot longer than us so have a right to be here but I could not risk Kharma being bitten.
Kharma of course did not understand what all the fuss was about but was ecstatic to be let out and go for a drive in the pickup. She was less than ecstatic to arrive at the vet for her annual injections and rabies booster. Rabies vaccines are not normally required to be administered annually but while at Gary’s last weekend he recounted the recent incident he’d experienced with a rabid horse. Ignorant of the symptoms he’d initially thought it might be the equine equivalent of biliary, a blood parasite that in dogs is frequently fatal. It was only when the horse started attacking his dogs that he realized it was likely rabies. They have had a number of incidents this year with rabid stray dogs and one of his cows caught the virus and had to be destroyed. The carcase was buried in an old alluvial gold mining pit near the Hunyani River and promptly dug up by locals and eaten! I haven’t seen any rabid dogs around here but the vet told me that there have been a few on the north-east of town so we thought it prudent to keep Kharma up to date.
Snakes, by the way, don’t get rabies.