A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A GAME RANGER by Chad Cocking

20 JUNE 2018 There is a Mamba under my bed!

Watch the video: http://www.tandatula.com/blog/posts/video-there-is-a-mamba-under-my-bed

Yesterday was a day that will go down in history for Chad. Finding an almost three meter black mamba under his bed was not the sort of company he was necessarily looking for. Here is his story about how he found this deadly snake and how it was safely removed. Possibly his most scary encounter in the Timbavati thus far.

“It is amazing how we fear things that we do not understand. These fears are most definitely not irrational to those fearing them, but it is incredible how, with a little bit of exposure, some gentle mentorship and an experienced hand, how one’s views can change.

As guides, we are often exposed to our guests’ fears as they head out on their first safari. Sometimes these fears manifest themselves when finding the delicately coloured golden orb-web spiders, and other times it can be when observing the playful games of young bull elephants, the largest land mammals on earth. However, after unlocking the secrets of the bush, and explaining to the guests how harmless the orb-web spiders are, or how the boisterous elephant bulls are merely trying to show off, the guests understand and can see from the guides’ and trackers’ behaviour that there really is nothing to fear, then they settle down and embrace the amazing experiences at Tanda Tula Safari Camp.

Yesterday however, was my turn to need some reassurance. I had to be shown that the immense fear that suddenly sprung into my world was not necessarily rational and actually was quite illogical.

I was not due to go on drive that afternoon, so after my guests had checked out I decided to go and do some work in my little house at the far end of camp. Tuesday was a wonderfully warm winter’s day, so to make the most of this, and to enjoy the view of the Nhlaralumi riverbed, I decided to open both of my doors whilst sitting on my bed.

As I was quite focused on an article I was reading, I wasn’t really paying too much attention to what was going on outside. A strange sound registered in my brain, however it was so unusual that I couldn’t place it. In my subconscious, I imagined the sound to be that of my neighbour, Jack, watering the garden and for some illogical reason spraying water onto my deck. This answer seemed to satisfy me, and I didn’t question it further, but the sound got louder and louder; my imagination explained this as Jack watering my deck with a higher arched spray and now it must be getting closer to my door.

Unfortunately, my imagined rational of Jack watering my deck suddenly came to a very abrupt ending when the sound of water splashing was no longer outside on my deck, but suddenly it was actually on the floor of my bedroom. I dropped my iPad to investigate what on earth this sound actually was, and in that very instant, I realised that I had discovered a previously unknown fear. Black Mambas.

Adrenalin filled my body. As I watched the huge, lithe, gunmetal grey snake slide past my bed and into my bathroom,  the complete fear cleared my head of any extraneous thoughts. Instinct and tuition told me to just sit still. This snake was not here to harm me, it was just a little bit off course on its search for a meal; perhaps it fancied the sneaky squirrels that had been playing around my room two days earlier when I left my doors wide open (again!)? At this point, I had not seen the snake's head, as by the time it caught my attention, its head was already disappearing into the bathroom and its enormous length followed quickly behind.

I wasn’t too concerned at this stage, as I knew that once it was in the bathroom, I simply had to close the door and we could then get someone to come in and safely remove it. This plan seemed very good, and I was controlling my fear well enough... until the head made a reappearance in the door frame. The snake had realised that the bathroom was a dead end and so it started to make its way straight towards my bed!

I won’t lie, at this point I became totally consumed with terror. I knew that if I did not move, I would be fine, but all I really wanted was to be anywhere else other than sitting on my bed above a black mamba! Fortunately, that eternity only lasted a few seconds and the head of the snake soon reappeared and moved into the bathroom again, followed by what I guessed to be almost three meters of body length.

My body remained totally motionless until the tip of its tail moved across an invisible line I had drawn in my mind. Then, as speedy as an uncoordinated ninja, I moved to slid the door into place. I breathed a sigh of relief and the adrenalin rush finally set my limbs a shaking!

I called Dale to come and assist with the removal of the snake, because I knew that this particular beast was going to take someone with a little more experience. After one quick peek through the bathroom, Dale apologised for having laughed at me following the initial call, and conceded that yes,  it actually is quite a big snake!

Luckily, Tanda Tula has a wonderful friend, and more importantly, a friend of snakes, Donald Strydom. Donald is the owner of Kinyonga Reptile Centre ( www.kinyonga.net/about_us), and is known to many of our guests who have been lucky enough to watch his snake demonstrations at the lodge. Donald often gives talks at Safari Camp and shows guests and staff just how uninterested snakes actually are in harming us, and explains how so much of what we fear stems from a lack of understanding about their behaviour.

It is incredible how guests arrive at the show filled with fear, and by the end of the talk, they are happy to touch and even hold some of the snakes that he brings with him. Donald’s unwavering passion for protecting these incredible reptiles made him the only person we entrusted with the job of removing and relocating this particular mamba.

As an accomplished professional, Donald arrived as calm as a cucumber with his snake-catching kit in hand. He started by informing us about  typical snake behaviour and how on a warm day like today, the mamba was merely out and about looking for a meal, and had obviously accidentally wandered into my house. Had I simply left the snake, it would not have bothered me and simply slithered back out into the bush where it would be much happier than surrounded by all the foreign smells of my room!

Once the briefing was over Donald went into my house to face the mamba. Everyone who had congregated on my deck gave him the space he needed and within a few seconds, he came out of the bathroom with the snake firmly secured in his snake tongs. Once settled, Donald managed to get the snake in a secure position and then gave us all the incredible opportunity to view and even briefly touch this typically shy snake.

One of the most interesting aspects of the whole event (other than how completely calm Donald remained the entire time!) was the curry powder smell that was exuded by the snake as a defence mechanism. Once caught, Donald transferred the snake into a bucket and left to  release the snake a little deeper in the wilds of the Timbavati where he will be able to life out his life as one of the apex predators.

Looking back on the action-packed day at my house, it was amazing to note how differently we all approached the situation based on our levels of understanding of these snakes. Not having the most extensive experience with them, I felt a fear for the situation. Donald, with his intimate understanding,  came to the same situation with so much confidence and enthusiasm that it made me feel like I had greatly over-reacted! While I don’t ever intend to go and pick up a black mamba, I really do hope that the next time I encounter one of these impressive snakes out in the bush, that I too will be able to convey the same calm level of respectfulness that Donald displayed for us.

What I have learnt from this experience is the importance of educating people about the vital role that snakes play in the environment, as well as maybe to start closing my bedroom door more often!

By courtesy of the Tanda Tula Safari Camp http://www.tandatula.com/blog/

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