Jess is my spotter in the game reserves. ‘Dad What’s That?’ she’ll say time and again. And it’s always something interesting. Once she said ‘Dad What’s That?’ and I peered and peered and eventually saw it after she’d told me exactly where to look – a snake in a tree as we were driving past! That’s amazing.
Walking to breakfast in Tembe we had Jess bringing up the rear as Aitch, Tom and I strolled ahead. ‘Dad What’s That?’ she said.
Today she called me out to the porch. This time she said ‘Dad There’s a Snake.’
I thought the nervous client had spotted Janet also looking at the scorpion and the puff adder in her room.
But it wasn’t like that; Janet wasn’t there.
The lucky, nervous – and ‘happy at the same time’ – client had spotted a scorpion, a puff adder AND a spotted genet like this one: All at once!
She had NOT spotted a Janet like this one:
Janet’s life in Botswana is seldom dull . .
So Janet wasn’t spotted. Some things are not spotted. In fact they’re STRIPED.
Later – Not-Spotted Janet sent a pic of another – or the same – puff adder visiting inside a chalet.
Beautiful, innit? Now, I know what you’re thinking: You’d shit your cotton undertrousers if you spotted a puff adder in your chalet, but think of the poor snake! It would shit its custom-made snake-skin undertrousers, seeing a 60kg murderous mammal towering over it. Poor thing is half a kg of innocence. Hundreds of them get bludgeoned for every human they bite – and only a few of those humans that get bitten actually croak. Give snakes a break.
We were happily sitting on a septic tank in River Drive when progress came rudely knocking. The municipality was putting in water-borne sewerage and the pipe was going to go through our garden and across the Mkombaan River at the bottom of it.
There would be some dynamite blasting. Deep blasting where they were going right under the river bed.
Bliksem. I was not happy. Our little wilderness was about to be badly shaken up.
Aitch arranged to meet with the high-ups and extracted some undertakings from them – We hereby undertake to minimise damage; to let you know the exact path so you can move your precious plants; to give you ample warning so you can move your dogs in time – we were still blissfully child-free – etc. they intoned solemnly. And she kept them to their word!
I asked the guys onsite to please not kill any creatures and to bring me anything they found so I could move it away safely. I would reward them. That’s how I came to receive this in a big bucket:
What a beauty! A solid-looking snake about 80cm long. Fascinating. I read up on them: They’re back-fanged, mildly venomous, not life-threatening; very reluctant to bite; slow-moving, placid; Look at the beautiful coloration and scales.
Relatively rare, they spend most of their life underground – note the small eyes. Found under rotting logs or when doing excavations. Move about slowly on warm, overcast days; good swimmers. Natal Black Snakes feed on frogs, lizards, legless lizards and small rodents; are known to take carrion.
As I promised them, I moved it to a safe place that same evening: the other end of our garden.
Another twelve-year-old has gone west. Flaky the snaky that TomTom got when he was five has shuffled off this mortal coil. Expired. She was fine and ate her last supper – the usual whole rare mouse – with hungry focus a few days before. Then I saw her uncharacteristically out of her shelter and exposed. A day later I opened up, no movement, prodded her and thought damn! She’s gone!
Before he could get her five-year-old Tom had to do his homework, learn about care and feeding and commit to checking her daily and cleaning out her cage weekly. He did for years, but then interest faded, new interests blossomed and Dad took over the feeding and watering chores. Not cleaning, though. Cleaning remained TomTom’s job:
‘Flaky’ was a beautiful and gentle American Corn Snake, glowing orange and black above and checkerboard black and white below. As she grew from about 250mm to over 1.1m long we added an extension to her metal-and-glass terrarium – a home-made wood-and-mesh upstairs to treble the size.
I got my only snake bite ever when I inexplicably held my left hand closer to her than the mouse I was offering her in tongs in my right hand. I’d never done that before – for good reason! She got me on my left forefinger knuckle with her tiny sharp teeth and drew pinpricks of blood. I was too big for her to get a good grip on and constrict me and swallow me, so she immediately withdrew.
Twelve-year-old Sambucca the Labrador went this year, now twelve-year-old Flaky the Corn Snake. Is it coincidence that my twelve-year-old Ford Ranger is currently in bakkie hospital with something about the valves and the head and the gearbox needing transplant surgery!? Hope it’s not terminal!
postscript: R25k later the Ford is born again: reborn; rebored? Only the engine, the gearbox and the propshaft needed fixing and off she goes again. 278 000km now.
TomTom keeps a beautiful American corn snake in captivity in a vivarium in his room. He loves her. I say if you love her, set her free. He doesn’t like that. Thinks his Dad is weird. I’m strict with him on cleanliness, feeding and water, temperature, etc, as he would easily forget. She gets a rat a week to swallow, carefully thawed and presented hygienically for consumption. The tank has an air temperature and moisture gauge to monitor that things stay right for Flaky.
Yep, Flaky the snaky.
As she grew we increased her accommodation to this double-story setup:
Once after moving her cage nearer the window so she could catch more sun as the days got colder, Tom came running into my room:
Walking around in a campsite which shall remain nameless (I don’t want anyone to disturb him), I heard a host of birds kicking up a big fuss. I couldn’t see anything, so lay down on my back and searched the whole tree with my binocs. Then a toppie revealed him by flying right at his head and slapping his face with its wings!! A big beautiful black mamba, who just quietly took the birds’ abuse. Maybe wrote down its name . .
I carefully marked the spot so I could find the snake again – I know how snakes can ‘disappear’ – and went back to our chalet nearby and called friends to come and look. I got them to X Marks The Spot . . . and I could not find him! I searched thoroughly, but no go.
We assumed he had moved off, but after my friends left I lay down again and searched the branches again. He was in almost the same position! He’d hardly moved. How the heck had we missed him? The incredible camouflage power of ‘not moving!’
While lying on my back on the mowed lawn I spotted a butterfly land on a blade of grass and twist its abdomen, wriggle, then fly off. I went to look and found a neat single spherical egg laid on the under-surface of the green blade of grass. Beautiful. A greenish-yellow colour, I think. I thought I took a photo of the egg but cannot find it.