Pietermaritzburg shoppers might want to watch their step after a highly venomous baby snake was rescued in in the CBD by local snake expert, Dean Boswell, on Tuesday.
The 19 centimetre long snake that had “curled up in a shady strip along the wall” outside the Bombay Curry Den on the corner of Victoria Road/West street, turned out to be a Rinkhals – a species that does not in fact occur in Pietermaritzburg, said Boswell.
“And just because it is small people should not be fooled into thinking it is not dangerous. A baby Rinkhals is as venomous as an adult,” warned Boswell.
He said it is a mystery how the baby Rinkhals came to be in the Pietermaritzburg CBD as the Rinkhals is only resident from Howick up to the Drakensberg. “Rinkhals prefer a colder climate and we do not get them here normally. They sometimes also occur in Kokstad area.”
He said there were only two possibilities – that the baby snake somehow crawled into or onto a vehicle and then got off in the CBD, or that for some unknown reason the mother snake had found its way into Pietermaritzburg and gave birth here.
“If it’s the latter it could be a problem because then it means there are more baby Rinkhals around in the CBD and they are highly venomous. People should be on the lookout for them and if they spot them please don’t go too close or try to handle the snakes,” said Boswell.
He can be contacted on 072 2943158.
The Rinkhals is a member of the Cobra family.
Like the Mozambique Spitting Cobra, which commonly occurs in and around Pietermaritzburg and Durban, it rears up and spits venom in self defence when threatened.
This species is also prone to “playing dead” says Boswell and he urged people coming across an apparently dead snake not to make the mistake of trying to pick it up. “I’ve seen adults roll over and lie so still that anyone would think they are dead, but if you try to pick it up you risk getting bitten,” he said.
According to Boswell’s information Rinkhals give birth to 20 to 30 live young, but can give birth to “as many as 63 in late summer”. The young average 16 to 22 cm and are perfect replicas of the adult snakes.
The venom, though potentially deadly, is said to be not as potent as most cobras and human fatalities are rare. The venom is described as a “dangerous neurotoxic venom that affects breathing and, in untreated cases, may cause respiratory failure and death". Antivenom is said to be effective in treatment and bites are reportedly rare.
Boswell said he is part of a snake catchers Whatsapp group.
"Another local expert, Pieter Potgieter had posted at around 11 am that there was a report of a snake in town and asked if someone can go. I then called and started driving there. Something just told me that I should get there quickly. Its not often we get calls for snakes in the CBD, maybe the odd House snake or Red Lipped Herald… En route the guy sent me a photograph of the snake and I thought at first, no, it cannot be.”
He said on realising it was a baby Rinkhals he warned the people not to go near or touch the snake but appealed to them to keep an eye on it till he got there.
“It was on the pavement,” he said.
“I rushed and when I got there, there was a small group of people standing around looking at the snake. It was highly stressed and was standing up and hissing and spitting. Luckily because it was still so small it could not spit very far,” he said.
Boswell said sometimes baby snakes are more difficult to capture because their heads are so small the catcher cannot get hold of it behind the head. However he said he was able to catch this one fairly easily with his capture equipment because it was rearing up and he quickly placed it into a container.
Boswell said the little Rinkhals has since been collected by Howick snake catcher, Lance Van Der Bank and taken to the Howick area, where it naturally occurs, for release.
He estimated the Rinkhals to be “anything from a few days to a few weeks old”.
Terence Govender said the Bombay Curry Den belongs to his sister, Kamy Govender. “My sister is not a snake person and quite honestly she did not even want to look at the snake,” he told The Witness. He said a customer told his sister there was a snake outside the shop and she called him “in a bit of a panic”.
“I was not there,” he added, but I called the snake catchers.
“Dean asked us to tell people to please not harm the snake,” he said. “He also asked me for a photo, so my sister got a customer to take a photo and when we sent it to Dean he said it was poisonous but he is on his way.”