These were the last words spoken to me over the phone by an understandably distraught woman before I sprung into my car and made my way towards her house. Snake callouts are potentially exciting, depending on the type of snake, its size and where it has managed to hide itself. But after hearing the potential consequences of this call, a dead pet, I had mixed feelings as I made my way up Table Mountain’s winding residential roads, heading towards the top of Kloof Nek.
Usually callouts offer the perfect opportunity to dispel some of the fears that people have about snakes, but how was I going to try to convince this family that this snake does not mean any harm. That it only bites for food or self-defence? I was a little confused that they actually called me to help them. If one does have an innate belief that snakes are evil creatures then surely the death of a beloved animal would be reason enough to unleash an equal fate on the evil doer. At any rate, this seemed like it was going to be a challenge.
Ten minutes later I arrived, snake stick in one hand, capture box in the other and was greeted at the front door by the woman who had made the call. Her husband came down the stairs and recalled the chain of events which had led them to believe that the snake had bitten their cat. The cat was still missing and the last time they had seen her it had bolted past them hissing, as if frightened or in pain.
The woman and her son had put a box over the snake and placed heavy books on top in order to weigh it down, preventing the snake’s escape. Both her and her son claimed they had seen the snake make a hood before they covered it. Certainly sounded cobra-like. But fear can have interesting effects on the mind and activate the imagination.
Prepared for something venomous I removed the books weighing down the box and slowly lifted it on one side to view the snake underneath. As I peered under, to my surprise, I saw…nothing. Oh wait, there was something but it was so incredibly small.
This freshly hatched common brown water snake (Lycodonomorphus rufulus) had caused quite a stir in the house, but this non venomous animal certainly wasn’t responsible for any missing cats . I put the snake on my hand and asked the woman if there was a water source nearby. Of course! I thought, as it was explained that there was a perennial stream running straight through the property – perfect as these snakes feed on frogs and their tadpoles. I walked down the road, away from their other on looking cats one of which, in all likelihood, had brought the little snake in as a play thing. I found where the stream passed under the road and released the snake which slithered out of sight underneath some plants next to the stream.
When I returned to my car I heard a call from the front door. “We found our Cat! She’s busy having her dinner!” Grinning, I replied. “I’m so happy to hear that!” I was. No dead cat, no dead snake.