Don't do that. This is the best way to deal with black mambas - snake rescuer

An x-ray of a black mamba which was shot with a pellet gun. Picture: Nick Evans.

An x-ray of a black mamba which was shot with a pellet gun. Picture: Nick Evans.

Published Nov 30, 2023


Durban — For education purposes and the safety of snakes and people, Durban snake rescuer Nick Evans has provided tips on how not to deal with black mambas and the best way to deal with them.

Evans started by sharing recent mamba rescues from two weekends ago.

He said November 18 and 19 was a rough weekend for mambas.

“However, it was filled with experiences that I can now use to teach others about how NOT to react when a mamba, or any snake, is encountered,” Evans said.

He shared a photo of an X-ray of a black mamba which was shot with a pellet gun.

A photo of an x-ray below is of a black mamba which was shot with a pellet gun. Picture: Nick Evans.

Explaining what happened, Evans said the mamba was being mobbed by frightened red-winged starlings. During the commotion, a starling was bitten, and the mamba began feeding on that.

He said the homeowners were alerted to the snake’s presence thanks to the birds. In a panic, and concerned about his dogs, a dog had recently died on their road after killing a mamba, and getting bitten in the process, the homeowner took a few shots at the mamba with a pellet gun, hitting it twice.

“One shot was, as you can see, severe, the other didn’t cause a life-threatening injury,” Evans said.

“My friends Duncan and Jade Slabbert went to catch the snake, which was fired up – a mixture of adrenaline from the pain, and the heat (you may recall it was a hot weekend), so this made the capture more dangerous for us, but we managed.

“We rushed it to Dangerous Creatures at Saambr (South African Association for Marine Biological Research – uShaka Sea World), for veterinarian Dr Vianca Naidu, to look at. Unfortunately, the damage to organs was too severe, and the kindest option was euthanasia.”

Evans said that fortunately, it seemed it was an educational moment for those residents and he hopes they will call again in future.

He said that on Sunday, November 19, residents opened their front door to find a black mamba on the stairs in front of them. Understandably, there was panic. Some ran inside, but someone grabbed a stick and whacked the mamba a few times.

“It managed to slither around the house and into a large shrub, where I caught it. But unfortunately, the damage was done. The spine was severed in multiple places, and the mamba was dead within 30 minutes,” Evans said.

He said one knew what to do, and in their moment of panic, just reacted instinctively. They said they’d call in the future, and learnt from the experience – that’s all that matters.

Evans said that later that day, I responded to a call for a black mamba in a shack in Reservoir Hills, accompanied by Inkosi Security Services. Residents found the small mamba (less than 2m) upon returning home from work.

“When I caught it, I could see it had a nasty injury. The residents were absolutely adamant they didn’t hurt it, and after thinking about it, I could see it would have been difficult where the snake was. They were allegedly too scared to do anything to a snake this size, plus they know to call (I have been there in the past),” Evans said.

He said that after some discussion and consulting with others, it was concluded the wound had to be from a pellet gun. A tiny entry wound and a larger exit wound.

“We suspect it was perhaps shot at one of the houses nearby, and slithered down to the shack for shelter,” Evans said.

“Unlike the first mamba who got shot, this mamba was lucky. It appears that no organs were hit.

“It is undergoing treatment at Saambr, under the careful watch of the Dangerous Creatures and veterinary team.”

Evans said that also that weekend, The Snake Man – Jason Arnold, received photos, which he shared with him, of a seemingly gravid black mamba which had three large bricks dropped on it. They were surprisingly neatly stacked too, somehow.

“A cruel fate for the mother mamba, and an action that could have cost that person dearly if bitten by the wounded snake,” Evans said.

He said that somewhere else, a man allegedly saw people trying to kill an adult black mamba. He stopped them, and managed to get the snake into a bag (he apparently used to catch snakes). He hung the bag with the snake in a tree but unfortunately made contact with us three days later.

“David John-Snake Rescuer went to collect the snake, but in a heatwave, the snake was obviously dead (we didn’t know it was hung up in a tree beforehand),” Evans said.

“We were so grateful he tried to help. However, for everyone’s safety, it’s better to call professionals. Mambas are no ordinary snakes.”

Evans said that while adult black mambas don’t really have natural predators in Durban, a great deal are killed by people, run over on roads, or by dogs. That particular weekend was an especially bloody one.

Lessons from the above:

  • “While almost no one (I know one or two exceptions!) wants a black mamba on their property, attempting to kill the snake is not the way to deal with it. Why?”
  • Killing a black mamba is EXTREMELY DANGEROUS. Hitting them, in particular, is dangerous. With no option, the hurt mamba will want to spin around and defend itself. It has happened to a number of people before.
  • Attempting to kill a mamba, but failing and then phoning a snake remover, makes the situation even more dangerous for us. It means we have to deal with a black mamba that is in agony, and therefore even more than ready to defend itself.
  • Should you try to capture it, and stuff it in a bucket or bag? No, absolutely not. A snake doesn’t know you are trying to help it. It should only be left to trained and experienced removers. It’s a risky line of work, to say the least.

What to do if you see a black mamba?

  • Move away from the snake, although almost always, this isn't really necessary unless the snake is cornered, because these shy snakes are quick to flee first. No, they are not aggressive and will not chase you. A safe distance is 5m, but some prefer 500.
  • Keep dogs away from it, as well as any family or friend who wants to try and deal with it themselves.
  • Phone a snake remover IMMEDIATELY, not the next day.
  • Watch the snake until the snake remover arrives. If you don’t, and the snake vanishes, the remover will unlikely find it.
  • “I wanted to say try to keep calm, or as calm as possible, maybe take some deep breaths. But I know that’s not easy!”
  • Summer is here, and so yes, mambas and other snakes are very active in the hot conditions.

Evans added: “I am doing research on Durban’s black mambas, to better understand how they’re surviving around Durban. I’m always interested to hear of sightings of them, so please feel free to let me know. I am also trying to keep records of pet/mamba conflict situations too.”

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