Snakes stage home invasions

2009-10-10 00:00

“IT is still early days; the worst is yet to come,” are the ominous words of Pietermaritzburg snake catcher Mark Enslin.

It’s that time of the year again when the province is plagued by slithering reptiles of all shapes, sizes and degrees of venomousness.

Enslin said that Pietermaritzburg and its surrounding areas are home to many venomous and deadly snakes that are “not scared to bite”, and in the past week alone, he has been called out 33 times.

“We have puff adders, black mambas and Mozambican spitting cobras, also called mfezi, and boomslangs here,” said Enslin, who has been catching snakes for close to 25 years.

He said snakes lurk in thick vegetation.

Ashburton, Chase Valley, Hayfields, Howick, Merrivale and World’s View are just a few of the areas where snakes flourish.

Just this week, he was called out to a home in Ashburton where a spitting cobra, found on the veranda, had attacked a cat, spitting into its eyes.

“We’ve always had snakes in our yard ever since we moved here,” said homeowner Ingrid Harrison. “The night before we saw the snake, the cat, Sooty, came into the house with streaming eyes, and because we’ve had pets attacked by snakes before, we knew what the problem was.”

Harrison washed Sooty’s eyes out with milk and applied an ointment that the vet gave her when their dog was attacked. She said it took two days for her cat’s puffy eyes to subside.

The next day, her son Ruari came rushing into the house with her two cats, having saved them from the cobra.

“They were stalking the snake, and my son saw this and ran and grabbed them and brought them into the house,” she said. “At that point, the snake had been hissing and had reared its head.”

She then called Enslin. However, in the 10 or so minutes that it took for him to arrive, the snake had made its way to the house and Ruari kept it at bay with a fishing net.

“It was quite aggressive,” she said. “It spat at Mark twice – but luckily, he was wearing goggles.”

Enslin said Mozambican spitting cobras are the only snakes that can spit at you while lying down. “If it does this, it is just warning you to back off,” he said.

Garth Carpenter, another city snake catcher, said that over the years, he has seen many instances where children and animals were attacked in this way.

“There was a case in Table Mountain where a four-year-old girl was spat in the eyes,” he said. “I went inside, caught the snake and took her to hospital.”

Carpenter, who has also dealt with Harrison many times over the years, said he has been called to remove snakes from homes between 30 to 35 times so far in the past two months.

However, neither of the snake catchers was aware of any snakebite incidents in the city since snake bite season began.

Both , however, expect the risk to increase as the days get warmer.


“Avoid the snake,” says Mark Enslin. “Most snakes bite and they can cause death.”

He says you should remain still and back away “very, very slowly”.

Eshowe snake catcher Alwyn Schultz says a snake will bite one only if it feels threatened. “Snakes don’t want to attack you, but they will if they feel threatened.

“I know it’s difficult to do, but don’t panic. You do not want to alarm the snake.”

He said the calmer one is, the calmer and more placid the snake will remain.

He adds that one should never turn one’s back on a snake.

“When it doesn’t feel threatened anymore, it will turn and go away.”

Not all snake bites are lethal. Symptoms can vary from a sore thumb to death, so it is advisable to visit a doctor if you are bitten.

“It doesn’t matter what kind of snake you think it is,” says Schultz. “Unless you have a very good knowledge of snakes, it is not easy to identify exactly what snake you’ve been bitten by, so you have to visit a doctor — to be certain.”

Enslin says that in the case of spitting cobras, unless it has spat its venom into a wound or the eyes, one can easily just wash it off. “I’ve been sprayed in the eyes; it burns like fire.”

If the venom is in a wound or one’s eyes, wash the affected area with water or milk to neutralise the venom.

Along the banks of the Dusi is another area with a lot of snakes. There’ll be a lot of snakebites there, because of all the fishermen. Snake catcher Mark Enslin

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