Snake Sensationalism: Cape Cobra on Hout Bay Beach

by | Nov 11, 2014

Cape Cobra on Hout Bay Beach

Is this the world’s most dangerous beach?

cape cobra

Jeffrey Rink

This over the top statement is the first line in today’s article by the mirror on the, now famous, Cape cobra spotted on Hout Bay beach.

If this is the first you’re hearing about it, the snake was spotted by a number of people on this last weekend and has blasted it’s way to the top of the social media world.

There have been a number of erroneous statements, and fear-spreading, by the social media snake explosion we’ve seen over the last few days. Time to set the record straight.

Although originally thought to be photographed by Janice Gianna Wagner, it soon became clear that the photos had been “borrowed” from the real photographer – Jeffrey Rink. Rink, owner of Eco Psychology Africa, told us via text message; “For the record I took the photo of the Cape Cobra on Sunday 9, and many more. I have video footage too.”

Everyone’s an Expert

For some reason, when snakes are the subject, it seems like there are experts everywhere! Just because someone knows a bit more about a subject doesn’t make them an expert. We certainly never claim to be experts because the more we learn the more we realise how little we know!

It’s great when people try to educate, but less so when facts are incorrect an misconceptions spread. In an interview on Cape Talk, a snake “expert”  claimed that that “Cape cobras don’t normally get that big,” making the animal out to be some kind of freak of nature.

For a self-proclaimed expert one must surely know about forced perspective. This is the technique used by ego-driven snake killers to make their trophy appear much bigger than it really is.

Mark Pyle

Mark Pyle

coleman rattler

This isn’t to say that anyone purposefully tried to make the snake look bigger – just that we have a habit of exaggerating perceived danger and the “experts” should know better.

Like big fish stories, snakes are typically said to me much bigger than they are. Want to see a tiny brown water snake misidentified as a massive hooding cobra – READ HERE.

But even if the expert doesn’t know about the photography technique, he should know that the largest Cape cobra ever recorded was 1, 867 metres – they rarely exceed 1,6 m – as is documented in Johan Marais’ book, A Complete Guide to Snakes of Southern Africa

And as much as snake stories are exaggerated they can equally become the stuff of sensational reporting. Terms like: “huge monster reptile;nightmares; creepy;  horrendous; and of course deadly,are thrown around loosely. The Mirror wrongfully claims that it is shark infested, contrary to the City of Cape Town’s official site which declares it as a low-risk shark area.

No need to fear.

Is this normal?

One has only had to witness the serpent star’s sudden rise in fame to realise that snakes on the beach are not a common occurrence. Of course, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. In fact the day before this incident, a mole snake was spotted on a beach, the picture published online with very little fuss.

mole snake

Petro Rossouw

Snakes are excellent swimmers. It is not very unusual to spot a puff adder  or Cape cobra crossing a river for example or, as reported by Tanya Heald of HOW Wildlife Rescue, swimming in the Langebaan Lagoon.

But this still doesn’t really explain what this snake was doing on Hout Bay beach. Claims that snakes head to water before shedding don’t make sense. Snakes are at one of their most vulnerable periods during and prior to shedding. Typically they’ll find a retreat or some form of shelter where they can hide before using something abrasive in their environment – like a rock – to rub against and dislodge their old skin.

Although snakes are known to soak in water when in captivity, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that snakes use water bodies, specifically the sea, for assistance in shedding.

Exposing yourself to the elements and possible predation to shed your skin doesn’t make sense.

So what’s going on here?

More likely is that the cape cobra found itself on Hout Bay beach (for whatever reason), encountered large mammals – dogs and humans – became stressed and disoriented and fled in the direction – ‘anywhere but here.’ This would explain why it was moving with its hood flared defensively.

In a video published earlier a few people can be seen gathered around the snake while others are kicking sand at it – presumably in an attempt at rescue. Although this is not ideal as it would’ve caused significant stress, it is incredibly encouraging to see Capetonians attempting a rescue and not fearfully attempting to kill it as is too often the case.

If snakes were the evil killers they’re made out to be, this would have been the perfect opportunity for a killing spree. But it wasn’t. There was no attempt to strike. There was no evident aggressiveness. In fact, the only behaviour we see is a snake fleeing for his life from a beach full of giant deadly mammals.

See for yourself…

Snakes don’t chase people and they don’t want to bite people. This #houtbaysnake is here to teach us something. If only we’d listen.

Snakes are all around us.

They’re silent, stealthy animals that keep to themselves as much as possible. They thanklessly provide a pest control service and are food more various predators such as birds of prey. Yet,for some reason they are still despised and widely misunderstood. And although they might appear completely alien and difficult to relate to, we are far more similar than we might like to admit.

Both humans and snakes need to stay alive, feed and procreate to ensure survival.

Snakes are faced with two options – kill to survive or starve to death. Snakes, however, only ever kill out of necessity – never for sport or maliciously.

That’s where we’re different.

Snake playing dead with a question mark over its head.

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