Snakes are an integral part of many rural environments. Even in urban areas we are sometimes surprised by the localities where we are called out to remove and relocate ‘problem’ snakes. Just last week I was called out to remove a snake from a house in the middle of Salt River in Cape Town. The snake had come through a hole in the fireplace to snack on a rat in the bedroom. The closest ‘appropriate’ habitat is many kilometres away.
We find that often snakes are killed because people fear that the snake is there to hurt them. However, this misunderstanding couldn’t be further from the truth. Snakes, like us, have tools for survival; for hunting and for defense. They also experience fear, like us, when faced with a perceived fatal threat.
Snakes bite to subdue their prey but have no reason to attack something too large for them to eat unless they are provoked. In general will only bite someone as a last resort; when it feels that it’s life is in danger.
Other defensive behaviours like ‘spitting’ venom send the same message, “I fear for my life, don’t hurt me, stay away.” With snakes, a little bit of understanding goes a long way. What many people don’t realise is that there are often snakes around – we just don’t see them. They quietly go about their business keeping rodent and other animal populations in check while trying to keep themselves alive.
This may not be of any comfort to you but let me just say that the chances of being bitten by a snake a very low when compared with other everyday activities like driving a car for example. That being said the best thing to do if anyone sees a snake is to stay away. Keep your distance, keep an eye on it and phone a local snake handler if needs be. Snakes will NOT chase you.
Learning how to keep snakes away becomes easier the more you understand them. Although the more you understand them the less you might hate having them around.
As far as your garden goes, make sure that there is nothing in your property that resembles snake habitat. Rockeries, grass piles, compost heaps, old branches or garden material, sheeting of any kind or anything that would provide a secure hiding place for a snake.
Remember that snakes primarily need two things, food and shelter. By reducing the potential habitat for both the snakes and their food supply you should be able to greatly reduce the chances of an encounter. Unfortunately there are no magic sprays and no snake repellent kits. Don’t buy into these money making scams.
My recommendation would be to get yourself a good South African Snake guide like Complete Guide To Snakes Of Southern Africa and learn about the snakes in your area. Understanding their habits, diet and habitat requirements will go a long way in figuring out the best ways to ‘deter’ them. You may even begin to like them.
Would you ever kiss a snake?