The mere mention of the word 'Snake' sends us heading for the hills or reaching for the spade. Why do we react in such a manner?

We can be seated in a game-viewing vehicle, 5 metres away from a pride of lions devouring their kill, yet nobody turns a hair. But introduce into the equation, a large boomslang coursing its way through the branches above the vehicle, and unimaginable panic would ensue!

If I was to ask the occupants of the vehicle to explain the obscurity of a mindset that on one hand accepts the close proximity of large predators – where death could be a possibility in the event of a change in attitude of the animals – yet on the other hand, automatically assumes that death is inevitable when in the presence of a snake, I know that I'd get mostly nonsensical answers. It's human nature to take most things as gospel truth until proven otherwise, but surely the fact that less than 10 people die from snakebite every year in SA should provide enough evidence for us to understand that they are not a huge problem. It is our attitude toward snakes that precipitates the so-called problem.

A few of our snakes are highly venomous, some have low-potency venom but most are non-venomous. Admittedly they're predators, but humans don't feature on their menu. Snakes are constantly on the lookout for danger, and they go out of their way to avoid us. To address our fears, we need to learn something about them.

Get yourself a snake book and find out what occurs in your area. Next time you see a snake, relax. Pretend you're in your game-viewing chariot, and enjoy the rare spectacle of being in the presence of a very special wild animal.

© pat mckrill June 2011.

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