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 Post subject: Incidents with snakes
PostPosted: Sat Dec 12, 2015 2:49 am  |  Posted from: United Kingdom
  

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Egypt4u God
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I mentioned earlier this week that I had come across a few little vignettes that I had jotted down quite some time ago, so I will post a few for you to read. My apologies if some contain a slight overlap into other stories of mine that you may have read, or facts retold in other of my stories because these were mainly early jottings by myself and were my own personal recollections put to paper rather than an intention to ever publish them, so they are reproduced here more or less as I jotted them down.


Incidents with snakes, The Python


One cannot speak of Africa without mentioning snakes, they are not exactly everywhere, but you do come across them from time to time, more often than not when you least expect them. They fall into roughly three categories, the constrictors, the egg layers and the bearers of live young. Constrictors such as pythons are not poisonous but can and will give you a nasty bite if provoked; I have only ever provoked one!

It came about as myself and several other expatriates all in our mid twenties, were supervising some new installation work at one of the last new copper mines to be opened in Zambia. It was a brand-new type of ‘portal’ mine at a place called ‘Baluba’. No doubt the name reflected the areas association with the ‘Luba’ tribe. At that particular time this mine was nothing more than a hole disappearing into the ground, it had an entrance similar to that of a railway tunnel, this allowed for large diesel engine mining equipment to be driven down into the lower levels under their own power. Once through the portal the access road continued downward in a slow corkscrew spiral that would penetrated the ore body in a relentless search for the copper rich rock.

We were about to move some large steel pipes as part of a water pumping installation when suddenly we became aware of the largest snake any off us had ever seen. The steel pipes had retained the heat of the sun and the snake; a python was lying coiled along side of them sleeping. Now snakes do not have ears but they do have an excellent sense of smell, they also hear by detecting vibrations through their lower jaws. Most snakes will attempt to move away from you if given the opportunity, hardly any will attack unless provoked, there are of course a few exceptions to this rule. Vipers for example are often slow moving and well camouflaged, one in particular, the Gaboon Viper is usually placid and so sure of its own defences that most human encounters are in the few seconds after they have actually trodden on it. Its fangs lie folded backwards into the top jaw and only hinge down prior to striking its prey. A bite from this snake is described even in medical material as “excruciatingly painful” not least from the fact that it has the largest fangs of any snake in the world, a massive 2” (50mm) in length, death usually results from massive internal haemorrhaging in which you bleed from every orifice, eyes, nose, ears etc. as the veins and organs become porous and leak blood.

One example I can give of how placid this extremely venomous snake can be, is when a little boy of a friend of ours and maybe 5 years old, was luckily spotted by their ‘Garden Boy’ dragging one along by its tail, these snakes are very fat and stubby, but grow about 4 foot or so long. It was by the greatest of good fortune that the toddler kept walking and did not stop and give the snake the chance to strike had he done so. The swift actions of their Garden Boy and a few deft strokes with a machete avoided an almost certain fatality had he been bitten.

We had made sufficient trampling noises for the snake to become aware of us; it slid away with a soft rustle of its glossy scales, the lower ribs flattening against the ground as it moved forward. I would estimate it to have been around 16’-0” to 18’-0” long (4.8 to 5.5 metres) with a girth as thick as a man’s thigh. About one third of the length down from the head was a bulge, this was not unlike the characterture that one sees in a cartoon of a snake having swallowed someone. So being young foolish and somewhat braver than today, we decided that we would capture the snake and take it to a friend of ours who was a taxidermist. Now a python has quite a large head with hundreds of small but very sharp curved teeth that all face backward to assist swallowing and a to maintain a grip on its prey. The usual method of hunting its prey is to ambush the victim and to lock onto it with those powerful jaws, once locked on these backward facing fangs make it impossible to release unless you push further into the jaws whilst simultaneously forcing them apart, not an easy task. Once it has anchored its head onto the prey it will throw coils around it and after each exhalation of the victims breath it will contract the coils. The prey is therefore suffocated rather than crushed, as it can no longer inflate its lungs to breathe.

At the time I do not think that I was aware of any of the above facts when we decided to capture the snake. So it was that about six of us pounced upon it, one lad Kenny had grabbed it behind the head and the rest of us were strung out along its length, I think that I was somewhere near the tail! It was surprisingly muscular and very heavy, it writhed rather than fought with us and after some pulling and pushing we were able to pick it up between us. The problem was that we had not really thought it all through, what were we going to do with it now? The phrase having a Tiger by the tail was never truer, we had it, but what do we do with it? The problem was soon solved by the presence of a large steel mixing tank about 20’-0” in diameter by 4’-0” deep. Someone suggested that we put the snake in the tank and after some hilarious lifting and shoving that is what we did. Kenny became acutely aware that he was holding the head end and would often look behind him in panic uttering threats that no one should let go of the “effing” snakes tail until he had first released the head. Once it was in the tank we gathered around the rim to observe our trophy, it made a couple of attempts to rear up but soon realised that escape was not possible. Being exposed to the sun the metal tank was hot and the snake made its way over to the shaded part and lay in the shadow cast by the vertical side, it fixed us with unblinking eyes and tasted the air with its flicking tongue. It was then that the strangest thing I have ever seen began to happen.

In order to save itself, the snake had decided that whatever it had eaten would take weeks to digest and in its present state it could not easily escape the tank. A series of convulsions started to pulse through its body, with each contraction the bulge moved forward stretching the skin so much that the scales separated from each other revealling a stretched white skin beneath. After several minutes the bulge had reached the head and the jaws began to gape, they grew wider and wider until they became unhinged from each other then the strangest sight met our eyes as both upper and lower jaw separated the skin at the side of its mouth creating that ‘V’ shaped gusset so typical of all reptiles as a pair of small legs appeared. The snake then seemed to reverse itself off the thing it had eaten rather than actually vomit up the poor creature. A dog about the size of a Border Collie was being regurgitated feet first; its fur slicked wet and smooth and the legs pressed parallel to its body. The last part to appear was the dog’s head as it finally dropped clear of the snakes deadly jaws, finally the python made a chewing motion and twisted its mouth from side to side as it realigned its jaws within its head.

All this seemed to have been an ordeal for the snake and it coiled itself up and made no further attempt to escape the tank. Happily instead of going to the taxidermist, we gave the snake to an Afrikaner farmer who had been troubled by people stealing his chickens. The snake had a regular diet of dead chickens and as pythons can live and grow for many years it may still be there and have grown to an enormous size. The farmer’s plan was to keep it in an empty chicken shed in the hope that one night the thieves might break in and get the surprise of their lives, I would not have wanted to be that particular thief!

On another occasion I was driving someone to the local airport and returning in the dark. We were travelling along a bush road, but this one was tarmac, lots of bamboo had fallen across the road during the recent rains and some were as thick as your arm. It was not uncommon to see large owls sitting at the edge of roads looking for road kills but mainly for snakes which would take advantage of the warm tar macadam surface to stay warm and usually these snakes were fairly small, maybe under 6 feet in length. As we drove home there was only one other vehicle behind us and everywhere else was unlit, there was no such things as street lighting and the only thing that penetrated the inky blackness was my pair of headlights. Suddenly a thick piece of bamboo was lit up in my headlights, yellow and glossy as it lay the whole width of my side of the road, it had obviously fallen from the bush at the side of the road as it extended back over the unpaved rough section on the left hand side. It was too late to swerve around it or to brake, so I just drove over it and hoped for the best. I had expected some sort of jolting or noise from the impact, but nothing like that happened, instead I saw this shape rear up behind the car, it rose to about 8 feet high before being struck by the car behind as it swerved to avoid it. It all happened very suddenly and I stopped and so did the car behind, although he would not get out until I had assured him that the snake was not somewhere tangled up underneath his car. That may sound laughable but it had happened before that someone had arrived home to be confronted by a really ****** off Cobra or similar wrapped around his prop shaft or under a wheel arch. Fortunately there was no sign of what must have been a particularly large Python basking on the tarmac and it must have retreated back into the bush, even today when I see thick shiny bamboo I eye it with suspicion.

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 12, 2015 3:28 am  |  Posted from: Canada
  

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Egypt4u God
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And you REALLY jumped on a snake that BIG? Wowwwwwwwwwwww!!! ;) ;)

Great story H! Am quite enjoying your memories of Africa :)


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 12, 2015 1:27 pm  |  Posted from: United Kingdom
  

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Ah, but I was at the tail end LLL ;)

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 12, 2015 7:30 pm  |  Posted from: Canada
  

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Don't know why about 4am this morning I was dreaming about pythons and snakes :ni: (but I was) but what I was dreaming about in that half awake/half asleep as I was mulling how constrictor snakes evolved to squeeze their victims to death automatically tightening to constrict with each breath.

No other animals or reptiles do this (constrict) and is seems just a highly specialized instinctive thing they do. Wonder how it evolved?


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 12, 2015 8:08 pm  |  Posted from: United Kingdom
  

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Probably a slow progressive thing LLL, saying as all snakes evolved from lizard like reptiles and some still have vertiginous limbs on their bodies. So the poison thing has evolved and still remains in some lizards such as Gila Monsters and Kamodo Dragons even though the later is more of a quick acting sepsis bite. No doubt that the loss of the limbs allowed them to pursue their prey below ground and in the course of time the body lengthened and maybe instead of gripping with limbs it twisted its body around in order to grip the prey and stop it escaping. Then no doubt some snakes perfected faster acting poisons that swiftly immobilised the victim whilst others perfected constricting into a fine art.

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 12, 2015 11:15 pm  |  Posted from: United Kingdom
  

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What a fascinating time it must have been for you, Horus! Did you find life a bit mundane when you returned to the UK? Love the story, so do keep going. Compulsive reading! :up


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 12, 2015 11:55 pm  |  Posted from: United Kingdom
  

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I absolutely loved my time in Africa Ruby S and had things been different I would probably have made my life out there. I admit that I found it hard to settle back into life here in the UK, I suppose I have always been a bit adventurous and would probably have been an adventurer or explorer had I been born at the right time and had the opportunities. ;)

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 13, 2015 12:57 pm  |  Posted from: United Kingdom
  

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Oh wow! & another great story of your times, you had me on the edge of my seat :o

Why did it take up the dog ?

Watching a nature program, I once saw a snake (a very big one) swallow a deer...Omg! I was cringing :o

Keep your adventures coming :up :)

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 13, 2015 1:54 pm  |  Posted from: Portugal
  

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Great story, would have loved to have been a fly on a bush and seen you all carrying the snake . . so funny . . . The one you ran over sounds like something out of a horror movie , , , oooo eeerr


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 13, 2015 3:31 pm  |  Posted from: United Kingdom
  

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@ Kiya, it had obviously killed and swallowed the dog some days previously, it regurgitated it so it could get away as they usually sleep for months at a time after a big meal. :sd

@ Jay, yes I bet we looked hysterical to any onlookers as we got ourselves into this situation, we were certainly all very aware of what we had hold of once it started to try and escape and the comments coming out between us are unrepeatable on here, isn’t it great to look back and realise how stupid you once were. :lol: :lol:

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 13, 2015 7:28 pm  |  Posted from: United Kingdom
  

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I thought so ;) wonder how long the snake that swallowed the deer intended to sleep ;) :ni:

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 13, 2015 10:21 pm  |  Posted from: United Kingdom
  

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Kiya, very often they will eat only the one meal in a whole year, they have a very slow metabolism.

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