One night last week Thom and I thought we’d take a late night walk in the summer air. We wanted to go out on the main road and take a long walk but debated whether or not that would be safe since the only time we had seen snakes was once in the middle of a road at night. We could just see one of the stupid dogs running up to one and getting bit. We decided to stay in our compound so I went out first with the dogs while Thom went to get his pipe.
No sooner had I stepped outside did I see Coco run up to a long black “hose” by the guards’ cottage. I instantly knew it was a snake and started screaming at Coco to come. Come! By this time Buddy had joined the action. The dogs’ two competing instincts — go for the wild animal or listen to their master — were pushing and pulling them away from the snake and keeping them about 2 feet away from it. They’d lunge at it and then stop when I yelled and back up, and then lunge again, and back up, and so forth. Normally I’d go up and grab them away but they were too close to the snake (those things can spring) to be in my comfort zone. Some of these snakes here are deadly, as in, you won’t make it to the hospital in time for an anti-venom deadly, so I kept my distance.
By this time both Thom and Gabriel had heard my screams and come running. I noticed that Gabriel hung back too but Thom ran up and grabbed Buddy, and then it was pretty easy to call Coco away. While he put them in the house I kept track of the snake as it slithered quickly toward our wall and then went behind the guard’s cottage toward the garden. Gabriel ran to the other side of the cottage to intercept it and called out that he saw it in the woodpile. I ran into the garage and got a shovel and a hard rake.
Gabriel, being the designated killer of all things wild in Africa (he is our guard after all and he killed that giant rat for me), started to beat the thing on its head. It kept wriggling here and there and he just kept beating it. Finally, it lay relatively still, its head crushed. It still looked like it had a lot of life in it to me because it could still move its whole body and inch away from us slowly. Gabriel said it was dying, not to worry, it was done for. Thom and I were skeptical and when it was still moving after 15 minutes, Thom decided to cut its head off with the shovel to make sure it was good and dead. We didn’t want to put it in the white waste paint bucket and then come to find it missing in the morning. So, Thom started hacking away at it. You’d think it’d be pretty easy with a flat shovel and lots of strength to decapitate a snake but they’re rubbery little things so it took a good five minutes until the head was separated from the body.
Only then did Gabriel inspect it and announce it was a cobra. Of all the snakes here, I guess that’s the “best” one to run across. Apparently Cobras will only strike if very threatened or provoked, they’ll try to escape first. And, a large proportion of their bites are blank bites. If they spit in your eyes you risk losing them but rinsing right away is supposed to diminish the effects (some say rinse with milk, others say rinse with water).
The other two common snakes here are the black mamba and the puff adder and their venom is deadly. (Haven’t ever seen one of those around here — the one we saw in the road back in February was a cobra too.)
We left the cobra in the white paint bucket for Danny the gardener to dispose of the next morning. And, for good measure, we put a piece of wood over the top and weighted it down just in case the thing pulled a Lazarus and came back to life. Gabriel told us that Danny would have to bury it, not just throw it in the trash heap to be burned, because Cobras’ bones are spiky and have venom in them that can harm you if you step on them.
See how much we’re learning in Africa? All kinds of useful survival information.