Sunday, 23 August 2015

Snakes Alive - Botswana

On a private safari holiday in Botswana some years ago, Grant our South African guide had shown us many things. We had found, most unusually, a Mole Rat above ground, a mammal I have always wanted to see, encountered an embarrassed Lion with an upset stomach, watched a family of Pygmy Mongooses attacking a scorpion and just enjoyed living for a week in tents in the heart of Botswana surrounded by miles of nothing but African bush and wild animals. Hyenas had walked within inches of us as we lay at night in our tents, their shadowy, sinister, sloping profiles silhouetted in the moonlight and passing within inches of the gauze windows of our tents. Did you know you can hear them make a purring sound just like a cat when you are very close to them? An enraged female Hippo with a calf, had surged out of a river like some demented barrage balloon  and chased our vehicle down a dirt road. It had been quite a time but now our week with Grant was almost at an end as we were moving on and transferring to the relative and more sedate comforts of a safari lodge in the Okavango Delta. Personally I would have much preferred to remain with Grant.

A very feisty Mole Rat. Check out those front teeth!

African Lion
As we drove across the plain to the dusty grass landing strip to rendezvous with the light aircraft that would fly us to our next destination we came across a shallow vlei (a small area of water). We stopped here as a lot of birds were creating quite a racket and were obviously anxious about something in a bush overhanging the far bank of the vlei. 'Those birds are mobbing something in that bush Grant'. 'Yes I know, it's a snake. Wait here a minute' he casually replied. Then without further ado Grant got out of our vehicle and waded across the  vlei to the bush. He plunged his arms into the branches and started pulling at something.

At first nothing much seemed to happen but then the tail end of a substantial snake appeared and gradually all seven feet of a Python was remorselessly hauled from the bush. Grant and his brother Brent are renowned throughout Southern Africa for their knowledge and expertise with snakes and Grant had regaled us each evening around the fire with tales of his snake exploits and encounters.

Grant had kept a collection of snakes at home and his fiancee had given him an ultimatum - either the snakes go or she does. Grant asked for six months to think about it but in the end the snakes went!

The Python was not at all happy about the undignified treatment being meted out and writhed and coiled itself alarmingly around Grant's arms and legs but he was totally un-phased and holding the Python tightly at the back of its neck with one hand and with the other hand grabbing its tail end waded back across the vlei, telling us 'it was only a small one' and once back on dry land proceeded to give us our very own personal twenty minute tutorial about Pythons and their distinctive characteristics. The tutorial was enlivened by an increasingly angry, wildly thrashing and hissing Python. No biology lesson at school was ever on a par with this!

Grant with the Python
Finally Grant ceased reeling off statistics, facts and anecdotes about Pythons and looking me in the eye said 'Want to hold it Ewan?' I recognised the challenge and although highly dubious felt I had to accept. Gingerly I grabbed the Python round the neck to avoid its fangs and held its thick muscular body in my other hand. The snake was incredibly powerful, but thankfully was running out of steam having spent the previous thirty minutes struggling. My wife and daughter had by now retreated to a discrete and safe distance while I mused what would happen if my grip on the snake loosened. 

No comment!
I need not have worried as Grant came to the rescue, took it from me and taking it to the water's edge released it whereupon it swam as fast as it could across the vlei and disappeared into the long grass and snake safety.

No comments:

Post a Comment