For Ballito snake catcher Samantha Cumming, her fear of snakes has been replaced with a passion she shares with young children, writes Lee Currie.
Watching Ballito snake catcher Samantha Cumming calmly handling a three-metre-long python or a venomous forest cobra, it’s hard to imagine that she once admitted to having an immense fear of snakes. That was until she paid a visit to Ndlondlo Reptile Park at Sugar Rush Park near Ballito.
“By educating myself about snakes, and with the help of Neville and Helen Wolmarans who run the park, I learnt to understand their purpose and behaviour. Snakes are truly misunderstood – yet they play a vital role in keeping the balance in our ecosystem and subsequently our health.”
Under the umbrella of Ndlondlo, Samantha – a pre-school teacher – works as a snake catcher in the afternoons and at the weekends, covering the Dolphin Coast from uMdloti to the Tugela River mouth.
“Non-venomous snakes are so underrated,” comments Samantha. “I’ve found that many people really enjoy handling them once they get over their fear. My favourite is the spotted bush snake; beautiful bright green with small black markings, and blends in well in its natural environment. It’s a very agile snake that hunts its prey – usually small geckos and lizards – and is often found in gardens or homes looking for a meal or a cool place to rest.”
What about close shaves or scary moments? “Oh yes,” she nods. “I responded to a call with two of my team members for a black mamba stuck in a hill crevice. We had to break down some of the rock to release it. On closer inspection we found there were two mambas. My team member secured one while I climbed up the hill to secure the other one. Coming down the hill while necking the mamba, I lost my footing and landed on my bottom. It was both terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. Both snakes were safely secured,” she adds with a grin.
WHEN A SNAKE VISITS
“Snakes do not normally hang around waiting for us to arrive, but if you are stressed, then find out as much as possible about the type of snake. Keep children and pets out of the way and try to keep an eye on the snake as it could easily move to hard-to-find places. Close any windows or doors. If the snake is in the garden, ensure pets are out of the way as you don’t want them bitten, and nor does the snake catcher want to be bitten by your over-excited dog!”
Snakes are most active between November and April/May, and just before winter as they hunt for food to fill their bellies for the colder months.
“As a preschool teacher, I like to incorporate my passion for reptiles and other animals into my teaching as I believe it’s vital to educate the younger generation if we want to continue to have flourishing wildlife and ecosystems. I would really love to see people not reaching for a spade when they see a snake. Rather reach for a book.”
Snake Antivenom Shortage At Crisis Level
Snake experts are concerned about a shortage of SA-produced antivenom because of a production backlog causing waiting times of six to eight months. “It’s a major disaster that doctors and vets can’t get hold of the polyvalent antivenom, not only in SA, but also Africa,” comments Johan Marias, CEO of The African Snake Bite Institute. “Dogs are dying everywhere as it’s mostly dogs that are being bitten and treated.” A monovalent antivenom is specific for one toxin or species while a polyvalent one is effective against multiple toxins or species. The polyvalent antivenom treats bites of at least 10 venomous snakes.
FOR MORE INFO:
- Samantha: 072 316 8178
- FB: NdlondloReptilePark
For a comprehensive list of emergency contact numbers and snake catchers go to: https://pethealthcare.co.za/PetFriendly/Articles/reptile-rescuers-list-south-africa