During my 43 years as a professional hunter, I have found that the most common question asked by clients has to do with snakes. “You guys have snakes here – what type of snakes, are they poisonous, has anybody been bitten?” If a client has hunted in Namibia before, or is a very experienced hunter, he might know the answer to these questions and not ask them, but I would say 99% of clients do ask specifically about snakes.

I have been living in the bush for the past 45 years and when I say “living in the bush”, I mean year round, except maybe for three weeks to a month’s vacation, when I usually combine it with the Dallas Safari Club and the SCI shows. The rest of the year we’re in the bush all day, every day. If it is not the hunting season, we’re busy with waterpump and electric fence main- tenance, repairing erosion on the roads and off-season culling. This gives you plenty of opportunities to come into contact with snakes. Here are some of the more memorable experiences I have had with snakes since I started working at Mount Etjo.
My first encounter occurred shortly after I arrived here, and was still getting to know the ropes with regard to running the water pumps. We had a diesel engine in a pump house that had to be checked every two weeks or so. My helper and I went to the pump house. I went in while my helper went to get water for the radiator. I picked up the belt that was always rolled up in the corner, and as I picked it up to throw it out through the hole in the wall and to connect it to the pulley on the engine, I felt water on my arm. My first thought was that the droplets came from the water being poured into the radiator – but my helper was not even in the room!
I turned to look and there, in the corner, coiled up on the belt, was a western barred spitting cobra and he was spraying poison all over me! I was lucky he was merely spitting at me because he could have just as easily bitten me on the hand or arm when I lifted up the belt.
I quickly backed away. I was wearing my .357 Magnum but I was not going to shoot in the close confines of a small engine room. In a corner of the room there was a six-foot wooden fence post. I took the fence post and pushed it as hard as I could into the snake and it killed him pretty quickly.
I was very lucky that I had my head turned away when he started spitting his venom at me. Needless to say, after that experience every time I went into ay pump house, I was very careful to slowly open the door and check everywhere for snakes before entering!
The western barred spitting cobra or, as it is commonly known in Namibia, the zebra snake, is usually found close to dwellings and the danger is there that it can come into contact with people. The snake has cell-destroying, cytotoxic venom. It is not as dangerous as a neurotoxin but still can cause very serious injury.
I have had more encounters with black mambas than just about any other poisonous snake. The black mamba is by far the most poisonous snake in Africa, due its size, speed and the potency of its neurotoxin venom. There are other snakes slightly more venomous than the black mamba, but no snake can inject the amount of venom that a black mamba can.

PH Rudi de Klerk

The author

I’ve had several encounters with black mambas. One evening my wife and I were having dinner at home. Our generator was off-line so we only had a propane gas lantern. We finished eating and my wife picked up the dishes and went through an open archway to the sink. Suddenly she screamed and as I jumped up, she came running out and shouting: “Snake! Snake!”
I grabbed the lantern and saw there was a mamba hanging from a broken window pane just above the sink. It had been broken by baboons and we hadn’t had it fixed. The snake’s head was still outside but the rest of his body was curled up in the sink.
I had my .44 Magnum on hand and as usual the first two rounds were snake shot for just such emergencies. I took the lantern and opened outside door. As I came around the corner and mamba saw the light, he turned and started coming back into the house. I quickly went back inside but the snake went into the opposite direction every time he saw the light. This happened a few times.
However, at last the snake decided he had had enough and headed outside. I had my revolver drawn and as he came slithering past me, I shot him! The snake shot proved very effective. The mamba was huge – 9½ feet! Needless to say, my wife was not impressed at this close call.
My next encounter with a snake occurred while I was driving to town on a dirt road our big five-ton Ford truck. As I came around a corner I saw a mamba lying across the road. I was going quite fast and unable to slow down. As a result I ran over him – and thought I had killed him. I stopped, jumped out, and to my amazement saw it going up a tree right next to road. I grabbed my rifle – I was a member of a commando at the time and had a military R1 rifle, which was based on the Belgium FN but was fully automatic. I took as shot at the snake, which killed him instantly and he fell out of the tree. It was probably one of the luckiest shots I ever made in my life. I cautiously approached and found his headless body in the grass. I looked around and eventually found the head. I poked it with a stick and to my astonishment the snake’s head started biting the stick! If I had touched it with my finger it could have killed me!
On another occasion I was conducting a hunt with two Mexican clients. One was an outfitter from northern Mexico, who guided hunts for desert big horn and desert mule deer, as well as coues deer. He was a very experienced hunter and we had hunted together before. He brought along his friend, Pappi, who was on a leopard hunt.
We were sitting at a water hole enjoying lunch. We needed warthogs for leopard bait and we were waiting for the warthogs to come and drink. It was a small water hole – only about 50 m in diameter with trees all around us for good cover. The next thing a big mamba slithered across the open ground towards us and went up one of the trees, about 20–30 m away from us.
Carlos, who does not like snakes very much, was concerned but I whispered to him that there was no problem as long as the snake was up in the tree. We did not want to shoot it because this might spook the warthogs. We would just keep an eye on the snake. The mamba was moving closer to us but he was still at a safe distance. Every so often Carlos would check the snake then look at me, asking with his hands what was going on. I indicated there was no need to worry. However, the snake came closer and eventually was almost right above us, about 10 feet away. He did not appear to have noticed us.

The next moment a warthog appeared and I told Pappi to shoot. I was watching the snake the whole time, curious to see what its reaction would be when the .300 Winchester went off. Pappi shot the warthog but the snake did not flinch or move. We all jumped up and moved away from the tree.
I told Pappi to shoot the mamba, which he did. It was an excellent shot, which removed most of the snake’s head. The snake’s body, coiled up in branches, was writhing but it did not fall down. There was blood dripping down onto our coolbox – which showed how close it was!
Sometime later, a professional hunter and I went to start one of our pumps. We opened the door of the engine room and as I stepped inside, I saw a mamba literally two feet away from me in a corner. As the door opened he started going straight up the wall! It is unbelievable that a snake can go straight up a flat surface like a wall. I could have reached out and grabbed him by the head if I had wanted to – but obviously I just backed away. As the snake retreated into the corner again, I shot him with my .44 with snake shot, even though using snake shot in a confined space such as an engine room is just as dangerous as shooting a bullet.
In all these encounters with mambas we were in very close proximity but they never seemed to be overly aggressively at all.
Another extremely poisonous snake we encountered a few times, mainly close to the house, was the Egyptian cobra, known in Namibia as the Anchieta’s cobra. We had them close to the house, probably looking for rats and other rodents. A shotgun or snake shot is by far the best protection for them.
One evening as we were getting ready for bed, my German hunting terrier, Sammy, started barking outside. We found him on the lawn, shaking an Egyptian cobra. Dogs seemed to know how to handle snakes – they go in, grab the snake and start shaking it vigorously. The dog ends up breaking the snake’s back and it doesn’t have the manoeuvrability. I shot the cobra with my wife’s revolver. However, because we were not sure if Sammy had been bitten, we were very worried. We brought him into the house and just watched him, but fortunately he showed no signs of having been bitten – which was just as well because the nearest vet was a hundred kilometres away!
Probably one of the most common poisonous snakes that one encounters most frequently is the puff adder. However, the chances of one striking you are almost zero unless you get too close to them. They are not fast like a mamba and they warn you by making a hissing sound when you get too close. Nevertheless, the puff adder is responsible for more snake bites than any other snake in Africa. This is because people often fail to see them, and they can be very aggressive when you come too close.
I lost one of my best dogs to a puff adder. He was asleep in his doghouse one night and the puff adder must have gone in and bitten him. The dog was usually running around, waiting for me in the mornings. However, that day he wasn’t there and I found him in his doghouse, dead and swollen. We found the puff adder a week later once again in the doghouse and decapitated it with a shovel. Puff adders must be respected!
What is interesting is that none of these snakes I encoun-tered were ever really aggressive. If one gives snakes a wide berth, the chances of being bitten are very, very slight. Usually when we find snake close to the house, we kill them. However, if they are deep in the bush and no threat to anyone we leave them be because, like all wildlife, they deserve to live and they do serve a valuable purpose. ASM