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In our new monthly column, we will look at different snakes holidaymakers may encounter at ATKV resorts …

Well, there are so many myths about our slithery friends: "You will never be able to outrun a black mamba!" and "The women in KZN carry baskets on their heads, because the boomslang likes to strike from the trees when the women stroll down the footpaths in the hills!" The most famous myth is that some snakes bite their own tails to roll like a wheel to move forward...

Despite all the myths, it is still not a pleasant experience to come across a snake. It is, however, not the case anymore that "the only good snake is a dead one," for they play an essential role in our ecosystem. The ATKV resorts are in contrasting areas of our country, each with its own variety of scaly reptiles. In this series, we are going to look at venomous snakes that are common to the area of each resort, what you should do if you are bitten, and emergency numbers to call. Some snakes appear at more than one resort (for example the puff adder), and will therefore be discussed more than once.



Before we start, just a bit of background on the different types of venom:

Cytotoxic: Puff adder, Mozambique spitting cobra

Reaction to bite: Extreme pain, swelling, and tissue damage that can result in amputation.

Neurotoxic: Black mamba, green mamba and non-spitting cobras 

Reaction to bite: Affect the nervous system and brain.

Hemotoxic: Boomslang, bird snake

Reaction to bite: Swelling and pain, and can lead to kidney failure. Affect the cardiovascular system and heart.

Please note: Many snakes have a combination of different types of venom.

ATKV Drakensville: 

Mountains are synonymous to snakes and inland KZN is no exception. According to Petré Theron, resort manager of ATKV Drakensville, most snakes that they find at the resort are night adders, and now and then a mole snake. "On rare occasions, we will find a rinkhals. Then we ask the staff member to catch the snake and release it back to nature, away from the resort. We also regularly offer snake shows to holidaymakers to make them aware of snakes in the area."

The following snakes are common to the Drakensville area:


Puff Adder

Puff adder (Bitis arietans)

Venom: Cytotoxic 

Classification: Very dangerous

Length: Maximum 1 m

Occurrence: All across South Africa and the north of Africa

Biting incidents: Common

The puff adder mainly relies on camouflage. It was found that the snake does not even react when it was stepped upon, so it may be possible that a hiker had unknowingly stepped on one! They are mostly active at night. Thick and heavily built with a swift strike. The venom of the puff adder is cytotoxic that causes intense pain, swelling and tissue damage around the bite, which then spread further. The snake will only start hissing and puff itself (hence its name) if it feels threatened. 


Interesting fact about the puff adder: They give birth to live young (ovoviviparous), while other snakes generally lay eggs. Actually, the young hatch inside the mother before being delivered. This may be the reason for the abundance of puff adders there are no eggs that can be eaten by other animals before being hatched.

Myth about puff adders: "They strike backwards." This is not true, their fangs swing forward when they strike, making it impossible to strike backwards. 


Rinkhals (Hemachatus haemachatus)

Venom: Cytotoxic and neurotoxic

Classification: Very dangerous

Length: 0.9 m to 1.5 m

Occurrence: Inland KZN and Western Cape

Although the rinkhals also forms a hood like other cobras, it is not really a cobra. It is classified as a Hemachatus subspecies. Rinkhals can spit up to 2.5 m when threatened. Another defence mechanism is to pretend to be dead and to lie still with an open mouth (called thanatosis) – only to attack when being approached or touched. Biting incidents seldom occur in the case of humans, and it is mostly pets that are bitten.

Interesting fact about the rinkhals: They love frogs, so if you live on a farm or smallholding and there is a fishpond, you can expect this slithery visitor!  

Myth about the rinkhals: "If spat in the eye, use milk or urine to flush away the venom." This is not true. Rather rinse the eye with water under a tap for 15 – 20 minutes. Then get the person to a doctor. 


Berg adder (Bitis atropos)

Berg adder (Bitis atropos)

Venom: Neurotoxic

Classification: Dangerous

Length: Maximum 0.6 m 

Occurrence: Inland KZN and Western Cape 

The berg adder is known for its bad temper, and when threatened will hiss and strike rapidly. How it differs from most other adders is the fact that its venom is neurotoxic (the same as the mamba). Many hikers and mountaineers are bitten because the berg adder likes to lie in mountain paths and rocky ledges, in which case bite marks are on the hands and fingers of the victims. Although there is no antivenom for the berg adder, no casualties have been documented.



Interesting fact about the berg adder: The berg adder is very popular among illegal pet dealers, locally and internationally. 

Myth about the berg adder: "They are as dangerous as the other adders." This is not true. Although the symptoms of a berg adder’s bite look serious, it is not nearly as dangerous as the bite of the puff adder or rinkhals.


Night adder (Causus rhombeatus)

Night adder (Causus rhombeatus)

Venom: Cytotoxic

Classification: Dangerous

Length: Maximum 0.6 m to 0.7 m

Occurrence: Inland KZN and Eastern Cape 

The best way to describe this snake is being brown with black diamond patterns on its body – as well as a black "V" on its head. They are often found in suburban gardens. The night adder is quicker than other adder species and can move up to 92 cm per second. They can climb and swim with the same ease. 

Interesting fact about the night adder: They are often mistaken for egg eaters (Dasypeltis scabra).

Myth about the night adder: "They are only active at night." Not so! According to Nick Evans of the KZN Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, he had seldom seen night adders at night – in fact, mostly during the day in the late afternoon! 


What to do if bitten by a snake 
Phone an emergency number immediately.
There is not much first aid that can be administered – so forget about pressure bandages and tourniquets and get the person as quickly as possible to the emergency room of a hospital. 
Do not waste time to try to identify the snake. 
Do not try to suck out the venom – it causes more damage! 
Try to stay calm.
Call the hospital so that they can be ready with the antivenom upon the victim’s arrival (according to availability). 

Emergency numbers
Mountain Rescue: 0800 005133
Doctor in Harrismith: Dr Du Preez: 058 622 2666
Thebe Provincial Hospital: 058 622 1111
ATKV Drakensville: 036 438 6287

Sources and photos