Box and stick

What to do if a venomous snake comes into your home

The other day Shire, Kofi (our bull mastiffs) and I were shocked to see a more than metre long puff-adder in the lounge of my son (Matt) and daughter-in-law’s (Sasha) cob cottage in Suurbraak, where I was looking after their small off-grid farming operation. The puff-adder was equally shocked as it hissed, slithered and struck warningly at us. Terrified, I ordered the dogs out of the house; phoned Kria who lives nearby and, when there was no answer, her partner, Tristan, for the contact details of the local snake catcher who was unfortunately in Cape Town. Tristan, however, sent me the phone number of an alternative snake catcher, Nita Wessels, who, unfortunately, had moved to Riversdale, but who gave me the name of François Plaaitjies, who worked for the Swellendam SPCA, and who told me what to do, followed by a cautionary from Nita.

What to do, according to François

According to François puff adders are languid by nature so, using a long pole or stick, gently coax her towards the entrance to a box lined with newspaper and she will go inside. Then shut the lid.

Cautionary from Nita

According to Nita, although puff-adders appear sluggish and lethargic, they have one of the fastest strikes in South Africa and are the cause of most snake bites in the Western Cape. Nita suggests, therefore, that the old wives’ tale of a snake striking backwards stems from the speed of this ‘sluggish’ reptile. Also to remember that for every action there is a reaction. So if you jump around, the reptile will be just as agitated. Always better to reverse slowly until there’s a 2 metre gap, then search for a container.

What happened in my situation

In my experience it’s vital that you keep your eyes glued to the snake’s whereabouts – which proved impossible in my case, being alone, because when I returned with the box (photographed, above), the snake that had originally retreated to the corner of my bedroom, was now gliding towards the front door, saw me, changed direction to under the built-in bench and vanished from view. Luckily I was able to attract the attention of a neighbour, Gari Crawford, who was driving past, and who later courageously joined me and showed me how to make a stick with which to loop the snake (photographed) in order to drop her into a suitable receptacle – a modus operandi that, in the end, we didn’t need to apply.

Unfortunately neither of us could find the snake and so Gari went home while I continued searching the house. In the end after poking around in a hole in the cob that I noticed under the bench: out plopped the snake, which, after initial confusion, proceeded to return up the wall and into the recess.

Garry answered my second call, I again poked in the hole, the snake dropped out and, with a little coaxing from Gari’s stick, slid into the tote box we had prepared. I shut the lid and on François’ advice released the snake on Tradouw’s pass on the way to Barrydale.

Box with snake on Tradouw's Pass
Box on Tradouw’s Pass, containing the puff-adder, waiting to be opened
Summary
  1. Be careful.
  2. Back off slowly.
  3. Don’t kill the snake. Snakes perform an important ecological function.
  4. Keep your eyes on the snake all the time because if it vanishes there’s a chance that you might not find it again and forever live in fear.
  5. Therefore there needs to be 2 of you, so if you’re alone, phone a neighbour who can keep an eye on the snake as you go off to find a suitable box with lid, lined with torn newspaper, and to find a long stick.
  6. Don’t panic. Take your time. The snake will most likely stay put.
  7. When it’s time, gently help the snake find the entrance to the box.
  8. Give it time to enter.
  9. When it’s inside, close the lid.
  10. François says that snakes return so drive beyond the village or city fringe to where the snake will find mates and release her.
  11. Feel proud of what you and your partner have done by not harming her.
Puff-adder emerges
The puff-adder’s new mountain home
Nita Wessels

This is the 4th snake I’ve seen since moving to Suurbraak. The other 3 are still out there. A long thin black snake that drank from the pets’ water bowl before returning to the thick scrub near the boundary of the plot, what I think (or hope) is a non-poisonous house snake, and a longer, fatter, puff adder just beyond the boundary fence. I’m very new to this game so if you have questions then please contact Nita Wessels who manages the Askop Reptile Raptor & Game Farm, whom, I’m sure, will be more than happy to give advice – askop.game@gmail.com.

3 thoughts on “What to do if a venomous snake comes into your home”

  1. Hendrik
    Well done on keeping your wits about you in this situation.

    Its great finding new herp friendly people in the area, you and Gari can be very proud of yourselves.

    May there be many more friendly encounters with nature.

    I would also like to advise all who share our awe of nature, that I rehabilitate all many of wildlife, big or small on our farm, so please all feel free to contact me via askop.game@gmail.com or telephonically on 082 660 1121, for relocation, rehabilitation or wildlife advise.

    Yours in nature

    Nita Wessels

  2. Hi Hendrik.
    I found your account of a visitation by a puff adder in your living space compelling as well as fascinating.

    First, all compliments to you for staying calm and handling the situation with such a cool head and so efficiently. Second, you both kept out of the way of the snake’s venomous strike and yet managed to capture her while remaining true to your conviction that the creature must not be hurt. Third, you removed the reptile from your surroundings and transported one delightful driving companion to Tradouw Pass, a master stroke.

    This account stands as a fine example of how to deal with a venomous snake in your home.

    Finally, I refer you to Kuki Gallmann ‘I Dreamed of Africa’, in which the author describes the bitter tragedy of her young son’s death from a puff adder bite, in Kenya. Italian by birth and upbringing, Kuki Gallmann emigrates to Kenya with her husband and very young son. That she so adores the land, its natural environment and its people is a source of much pleasure for the reader and many of her descriptions are haunting and unforgettable. Speaking as a native of Africa, I find it grievous to note that her departure from her own homeland for one that she knows only as a romantic dream, comes at so high a price – so high that the reading of it becomes almost too painful bear.

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