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.
- Be careful.
- Back off slowly.
- Don’t kill the snake. Snakes perform an important ecological function.
- 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.
- 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.
- Don’t panic. Take your time. The snake will most likely stay put.
- When it’s time, gently help the snake find the entrance to the box.
- Give it time to enter.
- When it’s inside, close the lid.
- François says that snakes return so drive beyond the village or city fringe to where the snake will find mates and release her.
- Feel proud of what you and your partner have done by not harming her.
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 – firstname.lastname@example.org.