Snakes must be among the most misunderstood and unfairly treated of all God’s creatures. They are commonly regarded as vermin which should be killed on sight, yet they occupy a most important niche in the ecosysytem. The balance of nature would be severely upset without any control on the population of rats, mice and other pests.
While the danger of a small number of snake species must never be underestimated, I do believe that the threat of death from snakebite while walking on the mountain should be put firmly in perspective. In South africa an average of 15 people die each year as a result of snakebite, with most fatalaties ocurring in Northern Zululand.
Yet a survey in 1978 revealed that only one in every 68 recorded snakebites resulted in death. By comparison over 200 people are struck dead by lightning every year; 10 000 people die in the carnage on our roads; and 29 000 die as a result of smoking-related diseases. If you are a smoker you can stop worrying about being bitten by a dangerous snake. What you are doing is 2000 times more likely to kill you!
There are some 23 snake species in the Cape Peninsula, of which only five are dangerous. There are about 130 species in Southern africa, 14 of them deadly. It therefore follows that should you come across a snake on the mountain, as I do perhaps once or twice a year, the chances are that it does not deserve the fate you probably wish upon it. However it would be foolhardy to regard any snake with contempt. In the Cape peninsula the five that need to be given a wide berth are the Puff Adder, Berg Adder, Cape Cobra, Ringhals and Boomslang.
A few fallacies about snakes that need to be exploded are:
Snakes do not travel in pairs. They are loners and only pair off briefly to mate.
Snakes do not hypnotise their prey.
Snakes are not deliberately aggressive. They strike in self-defence if trodden on or unexpectedly disturbed. They do not chase after people.
Death from an untreated Black Mamba bite occurs within 7-15 hours, not five minutes as is commonly believed.
Puff adders do not strike backwards, nor do any other snakes for that matter.
Most snakes will get out of your way first. Unfortunately this does not apply to the puff adder, which accounts for its high incidence of bites.