Most people have an innate fear of snakes, believing the only good snake is a dead snake. These ophidiophobes (people with a fear of snakes) are under the impression that no snake is beneficial and, as a result, instinctively fear every snake they see. In actuality, most snakes are docile, non-aggressive creatures that serve a vital role in nature.
My colleague Lizaan Snyman and I recently had an experience that certainly took us out of our comfort zones: a training course with the Africa Snakebite Institute. Why I hear you ask… Easy – we often venture out into the bush and since we are the ones invading these creatures’ space, the least we can do is to understand their behaviour better.
This informative course delves into snake awareness, first aid for snakebites and venomous snake handling with the ASI’s expert, Johan Marais.
But first things first: since I was a little boy, I had a strange relationship with snakes, being both fascinated (I even had a pet corn snake) and petrified by these reptiles. After this course, I have replaced this fear with respect.
We kicked off the day fairly early with a meet and greet at the Cradle Moon Lakeside Lodge, nervous with anticipation as we did not know what to expect. It is said that if you fear something you should explore it and learn more about it – first up, thus was the classroom! We had learnt multiple new facts about snakes, scorpions and spiders. The course was highly diverse, covering bites and stings and the subsequent First Aid techniques. Additionally, we learned about identifying the multiple different species of snakes via their scales, length, and colour variations. I learnt a lot while in class and debunked many of my misconceptions.
After lunch, we promptly went back to class to quickly write an exam to get our FGSA qualification in snake awareness and snakebite first aid. All of this was already very impressive and empowering. However, there was one more challenge to achieve our full qualification. This, of course, was the small matter of handling the snakes. The snakes we had the opportunity to work with included a Puff Adder, a Snouted Cobra and a Cape Cobra. Last but not least, we had our only spitting cobra, the infamous Rinkhals. The latter is well-known for playing dead before an attack, which makes it extremely dangerous. The snakes we handled are known as common dangerous snakes, and the instructors guided us on how to dispose of them without harm.
The experience was amazing and taught me how to be a better conservationist. I am happy to report that while I will always be cautious of these animals (as with all animals in the wild), I now certainly feel more comfortable around them. As a bonus, I know how to keep my family and friends safe from them for us to co-exist in harmony when travelling to their home turf.
African Snakebite Institute website: https://www.africansnakebiteinstitute.com/