the only good snake is a live snake

The legislation around the killing of snakes in the Western Cape is a bit of a grey area. On one hand only the following snakes are formally protected:

  • Water Snakes (Genus Lycodonomorphus)
  • House Snakes (Genus Lamprophis)
  • Wolf Snakes (Genus Lycophidion)
  • File Snakes (Genus Mehelya)
  • Slug-eaters (Genus Duberria)
  • Egg-eaters (Genus Dasypeltis)
  • Mole Snakes (Genus Pseudaspis)
  • Green and Bush Snakes (Genus Philothamnus)
  • Shovel-snout Snakes (Genus Prosymna)

So killing any of these snakes in the Western Cape is illegal. Technically this would mean that any species (mostly venomous snakes) not listed is an unprotected one. However, according to the nature conservation ordinance (Ordinance 19 of 1974) snakes are wild animals and nobody may hunt, kill, capture wild animals without special permission.

This in theory is good news for snakes but it is a law which is not often followed. It is also one which could easily be misread if the first document is read in isolation. In fact there are many who believe that it is not only OK but permitted to kill or capture a snake if it is on their property (which in part is true – keep reading).

UPDATE: An explanation from CapeNature

  1. The Ordinance only has a limited list of protected snakes in the Schedules.  However, the definition of protected wild animal also includes animals listed on CITES Appendix II, which includes all pythons.  CITES Appendix I listed animals are deemed to be endangered wild animals by the Ordinance.  Cape cobras and puff adders are considered to be so-called “unprotected wild animals”.
  2. Section 14 of the Ordinance states that no wild animal may be hunted on a local authority nature reserve without the written permission of the local authority concerned.  This is punishable with a fine of up to R100 000 or 10 yrs imprisonment.
  3. The Ordinance definition of the word “hunt” is also important when considering such matters.  The Ordinance definition for hunt includes to kill or to capture.
  4. The protection status of the animal determines the documentation required to legally hunt said animal
    1. A permit is required to hunt endangered wild animals.  These permits are not often issued.
    2. A hunting license is required to hunt protected wild animals within a proclaimed hunting season.  A permit is required to hunt a protected wild animal outside the proclaimed hunting season or is there is no proclaimed hunting season for such protected wild animal.
    3. In order to hunt an “unprotected” wild animal, the written permission of the landowner is required, if one is using a method that is not listed in section 29 as a prohibited hunting method.
    4. In order to make use of a method listed in s. 29 of the Ordinance as a prohibited hunting method, one must obtain a permit from CapeNature.
    5. The owner of any land is permitted to hunt a wild animal on the property of which he/she is the owner.  This permission to hunt is still limited by the methods used (as per s. 29 of the Ordinance).
    6. Many of the traditional methods of capturing snakes fit the definitions of methods listed in s. 29 of the Ordinance (e.g. snake tongs fit into the definition of snare) and therefore permits are required for the legal use thereof.

This is a very general overview of the situation and each case must be judged on its merits.

Section 29 of the Ordinance States:

29. Prohibited ways of hunting.—No person shall unless he is the holder of a permit

authorising him to do so, hunt any wild animal—


by means of fire or poison;


with the aid of artificial light;


on or from a public road;


by means of any trap;


during the period one hour after sunset on any day and one hour before sunrise on

the following day;

( f )

by means of any weapon in a public place within the area of jurisdiction of a local



by means of a fire-arm which discharges a rim-fire cartridge of a calibre less than

five comma six millimetres;


by means of a fire-arm which discharges more than two shots without being

manually reloaded;


by means of a bow-and-arrow;

( j)

by means of a set gun or any similar contrivance;


by means of any device which injects an intoxicating or a narcotic agent or poison

into such animal;


by the use of a dog, except for the hunting of birds or for the purpose of following

or searching for any such animal which has been wounded;


in the case of birds in or upon inland waters, by the use of a boat for the purpose of

chasing or killing such birds;

provided that in respect of the hunting of—


rodents, the provisions of paragraphs (a), (b), (d), (e) and (l), or

[Sub-para. (i) amended by s. 7 of Ord. 26 of 1986.]


any bird or any other wild animal which is not an endangered or a protected wild

animal, the provisions of paragraph (g), or


any such wild animal by a registered veterinary surgeon in the practice of his

profession, the provisions of paragraph (k),

shall not apply.

The short of it is that if a snake is on a private land then the landowner may in fact kill the snake, or give permission to kill the snake as long as neither are using a prohibited method as in s. 29. This means that one can kill a snake by use of a heavy object for example but not permitted to capture it in a box (trap) without a permit (there is a hole here which needs some revision I think).  If the “unprotected animal” is on a local authority nature reserve then “hunting” the animal, or snake in this case, is heavily punishable.

Many of us doing call-outs in our spare time have experienced this; rushing out to retrieve a snake only to find it dead, or injured. I understand the thought process, the fear, the idea that if the snake isn’t dealt with it is either going to return or bite a child or a dog. And of course this does happen but can often be avoided.

One of the biggest challenges we face conserving the snakes of the Western Cape is trying to get people to understand that snakes will not bite without provocation. That biting something much larger than themselves is usually a last ditch attempt at survival.

This is not to say that people who kill snakes are wrong; they are usually only displaying the very same behaviour that a snake is when it strikes out of fear. I would also never advocate that in these instances that anyone who kills a snake be prosecuted – but the legislation is there and if anything, it could possibly help to assist in making a targeted decision from hitting the reptile with a stick or simply keeping a close eye on it and phoning a snake handler for snake removal.

It’s confusing, but killing a snake in the Western Cape is illegal, sometimes.

Would you kill the snake or phone one of us? Should all snakes be protected or should it be OK to kill the venomous ones?

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