To most people snakes are repulsive creatures, more feared than appreciated for their crucial role in keeping rodents in check. This is quite understandable since even the common rat snake can be quite scary, especially if it’s as thick as one’s forearm like the one in our semi-forested compound.
Indeed my wife and I (both well past our prime) aren’t so enamoured of nature that the sight of snakes crossing our drive doesn’t bother us. It does but we don’t over-react. Of necessity, I’ve learned to identify the more dangerous species that frequent our property, lured by the resident rats and the dense cover provided by our coffee bushes.
Inevitably, over the years I’ve had a few brushes with snakes. Once noticing what appeared to be a length of hosing dumped on the ground, I casually tapped it with a stick—only to discover it was an enormous rat snake. I fled faster than it did! Another time I all but stepped on a large viper in our drive late one evening, its dark brown colouring blended perfectly with the ground. I recoiled in horror as I realised how close I’d come to being bitten.
Once a young hyperactive viper crept into the kitchen and had to be forcibly evicted—using “skills” picked up from Discovery Channel! And, shockingly, I never realised our compound harboured cobras, too, until one was run over by a vehicle. Then one torrid afternoon I watched, intrigued, as a rat snake slid into a cranny in an embankment close to our bedroom window. How a snake of its size could squeeze into that small chink baffled me. When the reptile came out some time later, I checked the crevice and found it could hardly accommodate even a rat. Truly, that snake must have been a consummate contortionist!
As is well-known, most people are usually bitten by snakes when they unknowingly step on them, for snakes rarely attack humans unprovoked. So we are vigilant when out in the compound, alerted by the slightest rustling, though I’ve seen snakes glide noiselessly even over a bed of dry leaves.
Once a persistent rustling in a thicket stopped me in my tracks. As I waited with bated breath, a grey, pink-snouted mongoose emerged cautiously—a most welcome sight that gladdened me for the mongoose is known to be a snake-killer and its arch-enemy. Another known bete noire of snakes is the guinea-fowl which we once considered rearing when snake sightings became too common. We’ve also tried scattering garlic peels which are said to be a snake repellent.
The snakes, however, are here to stay. So, for the sake of “peaceful coexistence” and our safety, we give them a wide berth while allowing them the run of our property. The rat population is definitely declining thanks to the snakes, who in turn, are kept in check by the mongoose, their natural predator. It’s all part of nature’s uncanny scheme of things!