Black Mamba

Photo Essay: The Snake Charmers

View photos of Thea Litschka-Koen and her husband, Clifton, as they try to save lives and change attitudes about the black mamba, Africa’s deadliest snake.

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Thea Litschka-KoenThea Litschka-KoenThea Litschka-Koen initially became interested in black mambas after one of her sons chose the subject of snakes for a school project. Soon after, she found herself researching snakes, and ultimately enrolling in mamba handling and identification courses.
Clifton KoenClifton KoenEnlisting her husband, Clifton, in her efforts, Thea began responding to emergency calls and requests from locals, to remove and rescue snakes found in homes and fields where they could come into contact with humans.
Lurking in the Sugar CaneLurking in the Sugar CaneThe black mamba is Africa’s deadliest snake. Untreated, its bite has a fatality rate of 100 percent, and the residents of Swaziland have suffered losses due to snake bites for generations.
Keeping a Safe DistanceKeeping a Safe DistanceBecause access to antivenom in Swaziland is difficult, Thea and Clifton -- and the filmmakers -- must use extreme caution. Here, cameraman Chris Openshaw is filming at a field of sugar cane.
Victims of Snake BiteVictims of Snake BiteWhen snake bites occur, many people turn to traditional healers for help, but herbal remedies fail. With good reason, Swazis are fearful of the black mamba. Here is the family of Tengetile, a 13-year-old girl who died after being bitten by a black mamba.
Snake SurgerySnake SurgeryThea and Clifton developed a program to track black mambas in the wild for the first time and to gain new insights into their behavior. With the help of a snake expert from Johannesburg, they were able to surgically insert radio transmitters in a number of captured black mambas.
Inserting the Radio IDInserting the Radio IDThis anaesthetized black mamba is undergoing the implanting procedure.
Tracking the MambaTracking the MambaIf the research pays off, Thea may be able to show that the relocations are working by successfully removing snakes from residential areas for the long term, and thereby bringing some relief to the locals and some respite for the snakes.
A Successful RemovalA Successful RemovalIn the course of catching and relocating any number of snakes per day, Thea, Clifton, and their team give impromptu lessons about the snakes. Here, snake handler Philane holds a black mamba he rescued from a desk in a school.