‘Never a dull moment in the bush’
is a phrase that definitely applies to the events of a morning last week. I was having breakfast with the boys when Gloria came to the house. Gloria works for our next-door neighbors. She told me one of the dogs was sick and she thought a snake might have bitten him. Gloria was home alone, with our neighbors without signal deep in the bush, so I rushed over to have a look.
Bismark was lying on the grass at the back of the house. The side of his face all swollen and blood was seeping from a wound above his eye. He was looking absolutely miserable and lethargic. According to Gloria, he had been barking at something under a thick bush at the fence earlier that morning. Oh dear… “Come, Gloria, we need to take him to the vet! I’ll go get the boys ready. Please wrap him in a towel, I will see you just now!”
“Ay, my boy… Don’t you know you need to leave snakes alone?” I asked the poor dog as I was driving on the N4 towards Malelane. I am sure I could hear him sigh…He was not looking good at all and rested his head on Gloria’s lap. Neither Gloria nor myself had seen a snake, but we thought Bismark might have been bitten by a Puff Adder. They rely on camouflage and rather stay hidden then flee, even when harassed by a dog.
I had phoned ahead and let the vet know we were coming in with a possible snakebite. They kindly opened the practice earlier to help this poor little doggy.
The vet had a look at Bismarks wounds while I was desperately trying to get hold of our neighbor. We eventually left Bismark in the capable hands of the vet, who would administer an anti-venom. Gloria and I took the boys home. We needed to find the snake before someone else got hurt.
After we got back I locked the boys inside the house and met Gloria at the shrub in question. I took my go-to tool in situations like this: my trusted broom. (Read: Toughen up Cupcake – From City Girl to Bushveld Mom.) Gloria armed herself with a long rod. Very carefully, we started searching in the dense vegetation.
“There it is!” Gloria shouted! And she was pointing at what just looked like grass and twigs to me. I had to look about 6 times before I finally saw a yellowish streak in the undergrowth. Then I saw the rough scaly dark brown skin of what indeed appeared to be a Puff Adder.
Right. A venomous snake in the garden and two boys desperate to come and play outside and see what the commotion is all about. I could hear Alex calling me from inside the house. I quickly phoned the Berg en Dal duty phone. The kind Duty Manager told me she would send someone to come and catch the Puff adder.
The Honorary Rangers come to help
Not even ten minutes later, our Knight in Shining Armour, Danie, arrived. Danie is an Honorary Ranger and he was in the Duty Managers office, discussing a course when I phoned. Last year, Danie gave the snake-handling course for rangers and guides here in Kruger, so I could not have asked for a better person to come and help with the Puff adder in the garden.
Much to the boys’ dismay, I locked them inside the house again and showed Danie where we saw the snake. Instead of a sword, our modern day knight brought a snake-handling kit, which consisted of the following things: A see through bucket with air holes and a clamp-shut lid, a snake hook and a long tong. After he eventually located the Puff Adder (mán, these snakes are well camouflaged!), he had it secured in the tongs in no time.
The Adder was not amused. It turned its head and bit the tongs! Danie allowed me to take a few photographs before he safely secured the snake in the bucket.
Since Alex and Jack grow up in an environment where snakes are common, I thought this might be a good lesson for them. So I asked Danie if we could quickly show the kids before he released the snake into the veld. I made Danie a cup of lekker Dutch coffee to say thanks and called the boys outside.
Just like with the tortoises in the garden, I explained to them that they can look, but they cannot touch a snake. They need to come and call me if they see one. And I explained that this was the snake that bit the doggy we had to take to the doctor. “Slang stout?” Alex asked me. “Slang byt jou eina my lieffie”, I replied. He pondered on this for a moment and then put his finger on the bucket. Clearly a lesson we will need to repeat a few times;-)
Gloria said she would watch the boys for half an hour, while I accompanied Danie to release the snake. With the bucket containing the snake on the backseat of his car, we drove into the park. (I could not help but look back every now and then and check if the lid was still shut) Danie found a suitable area on the S114. One or two OSV’s stopped to ask what he was doing, and Danie was more than happy to show their guests the snake and tell them a few things about Puff Adders.
Then, using the hook and tongs, Danie turned the bucket on its side and tipped it so the snake slid out. Our Puff Adder quickly found a little mount with a hole in it and turned himself into something resembling a stick. What a professional way to handle this venomous snake!! I would love to be on one of Danie’s snake handling courses. Just to be able to handle situations like this on my own. (It really feels like these things only happen when we are home alone)
On our way back to the Gate, I asked Danie all sorts of questions about his work as an Honorary Ranger for SANParks. The HR’s really do amazing things for the park. And I would love to write an article about all the aspects of being an HR and how people that are interested in the Honorary Rangers can join. I will do so in a future blog!
And Bismark? The brave little dog came home from the vet over the weekend. He might lose the sight in one eye and his face and chest are still quite swollen, but it looks like he is going to make it! I hope he learned a valuable lesson: snakes are dangerous!
About Puff Adders
I will end with some information about Puff Adders that I found on https://www.africansnakebiteinstitute.com
Quote: “Full Name: Puff Adder (Bitis arietans arietans)
Other Names: Pofadder
Classification: VERY DANGEROUS
The Puff Adder is widespread over much of South Africa and elsewhere further north into Africa. It is a heavy-bodied snake that relies on its excellent camouflage and is reluctant to move. Much of its life is spent in camouflage mode and recent research has shown that when hiding, the Puff Adder will not hiss or strike when approached, as this would give away its presence.
It is an ambush hunter that will coil up into a striking position and await its prey. This can last several days or even weeks. Toads are lured closer with flicking their tongue.
Puff Adder venom is potently cytotoxic, causing severe pain, swelling, blistering and in many cases severe tissue damage. Polyvalent antivenom is effective and should be administered sooner rather than later. Fatalities are quite rare.”