Playing hide and seek with a cobra

2010-03-16 00:00

FOR Pietermaritzburg snake experts Garth Carpenter and Mark Enslin, close encounters of the poisonous kind are all in a day’s work, to be taken calmly in one’s stride.

But for those of us who get the jitters when we come across unwelcome slithery visitors in our homes or gardens, the Carpenters and Enslins of this world are our saviours.

But matters don’t always go according to plan as I found out recently.

March 10 dawned a normal day for my family and me — well, pretty normal — since it was also the day my husband Andrew and I were celebrating our 26th wedding anniversary (and he did remember to bring out the flowers and chocolates early in the morning before the mad school rush started).

We planned to have a special meal that night with our children, Ruari and Kristen, but otherwise went about our daily business as usual, unsuspecting of the turmoil that lay around the corner.

I had just arrived back at The Witness to start writing up my daily court stories when my cellphone rang. It was my domestic helper, Veronica Zamisa, reporting the presence of a snake — “one of those with a hood that rears up when confronted” — in the kitchen. She had almost stepped on the reptile as she entered the room and the snake slithered off under the washing machine.

I immediately called Enslin and Carpenter, whose numbers I have close at hand having had previous similar encounters with snakes, but as luck would have it neither was immediately available to rush to my rescue.

As my husband was working in Durban, I raced home to confirm that the unwelcome guest was indeed the one I feared — a Mozambique spitting cobra.

These snakes are fairly common in Ashburton and both Carpenter and Enslin have captured and removed members of this species from our smallholding before.

And so it turned out to be — even though it was clearly a juvenile snake peeping out periodically from under the washing machine, it is just as toxic as an adult.

Fearing for the safety of my children and menagerie of dogs, cats, pony and birds, I prefer such a poisonous snake be removed, rather than left to escape in the vicinity of the house.

Keen wildlife enthusiasts that my family are, we also don’t like to see them killed.

I made a desperate plea to Carpenter once more who assured me he would be with me as soon as he had finished dealing with a call-out to remove a boomslang in Wartburg.

My relief when I heard his car arrive at our gate was unimaginable. But this feeling of euphoria was short-lived. When Carpenter pulled out the washing machine and dishwasher from under the kitchen counter there was no sign of the snake. Somewhat gloomily he suggested the snake might have found a way inside the machine “as they do”.

I lay on the floor torch aloft peering into the underside of the washing machine and dishwasher as Carpenter held them at an angle, intensely aware of how vulnerable I was to an eyeful of venom. There are big spaces under both machines into which a snake can crawl and hide. Our slippery customer had vanished.

After we had even done a load of washing to try to dislodge the snake from its hiding place without success, Carpenter took his leave, advising us to “keep an eye open” for the snake and to let him know if it reappeared.

Within half an hour, Zamisa came rushing to say the snake was “coming out”. Sure enough, there it was but the moment it realised it had been seen it vanished again under the washing machine.

We sat and waited breathlessly for Carpenter to return.

When he entered the front door the snake had re-emerged and was nearly completely out in the open ... but seconds later it changed its mind and shot back under the washing machine once more.

Carpenter, and his patient wife, waited for almost an hour until darkness was falling, to no avail. Eventually, we disconnected the washing machine and placed it outside in the courtyard for the night, where it drew the family’s constant gaze through the evening as we waited for the snake to emerge. That is, until a power cut plunged us into darkness at 8.30 pm.

We still don’t know what became of the snake but presumably it is no longer in my washing machine which has now been restored to its rightful place.

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