Black Mamba

Snake Handler Thea Litschka-Koen Answers Your Questions

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Thea Litschka-Koen

Submit your questions here for snake handler Thea Litschka-Koen, featured in Black Mamba. During the week of Monday, November 9, Thea will answer your questions here.

Thea Litschka-Koen was born in Swaziland and is the third generation in her family to live there. She initially became interested in black mambas after one of her sons chose snakes as a school project. Soon after, she found herself doing a lot of fascinating research and ultimately enrolling in handling and identification courses, and her involvement grew from there. Enlisting her husband, Clifton, in her efforts, Thea began responding to emergency calls from locals, removing and rescuing snakes they found. Each call-out is a daunting proposition, even for this intrepid and experienced couple. After a successful rescue, on-site demonstrations help assuage some of the fears Swazis have about the mambas that will always live among them. Thea also founded a reptile park where some of her rescued snakes could be released and where people could learn more about snakes, as well as how to handle some of them safely.

Submit your questions for Thea in the comments field below.

Teresa asks:

Have you ever been bitten by a black mamba, or another particularly dangerous snake?

Thea says:

Teresa,
Luckily not! Clifton and I have to be extremely careful every time we go on a callout. With a black mamba bite, paralysis occurs within 45 minutes. In Swaziland we do not have a hospital with an ICU that has life support equipment and there is little or no antivenom. The closest hospital that is properly equipped to deal with snakebite is in South Africa, a good 2.5 hours drive away. The border between the two countries is only open between 7am and 6pm, another obstacle.

The closest I have ever come to a bite was during one specific callout. Somehow I managed to get my finger on the snake’s fang. It did not bite me, so there was very little venom. Within a few minutes my hand started to tingle and I had a very bad metallic taste in my mouth. Luckily the symptoms disappeared within an hour or so.

Alona asks:

Are black mambas deadly snakes?

Thea says:

Alona,
Absolutely! Its bite is deadly and commonly known as the “kiss of death.” In Swaziland and many other African countries, almost everyone who gets bitten by this notorious snake dies (because of the lack of antivenom and life support). One mamba has enough venom to kill 8 to 14 adults. The venom is a very quick acting neurotoxin (a substance that damages, destroys, or impairs the functioning of the nervous system). The first symptoms are usually felt within 15 minutes — much sooner if the victim is a small child. The bite itself is often relatively painless, with very little or no swelling. Breathing difficulties soon develop, which ultimately leads to respiratory paralysis and death. This often happens within 45 minutes, or if you are lucky, a few short hours. It is a frightening way to die, fighting to breathe whilst slowly becoming totally paralysed. The worst part is your brain remains totally unaffected. The victim is aware of everything and everyone around him but he cannot move, swallow, talk or breathe.

Josh asks:

Are black mambas an endangered species?

Thea says:

Josh,
Not at all. We rescue between 80 and 120 black mambas a season from people’s homes, offices, schools — basically anywhere a snake can crawl into. One of the most memorable was a little girl’s school bag! Her mother asked her to fetch her lunch box, and when she opened her little backpack she came face to face with the snake. She was very lucky indeed as it must have crawled in at school. At the end of the school day she apparently threw in her books, zipped up the bag, put the bag on her back and got onto the bus for the 30-minute ride home. All the snakes we rescue, about 500 or more a season, are released.

Karen says:

Is there a safe, non-toxic repellent that would discourage mambas and other venomous snakes from entering homes and areas inhabited by humans?

Thea says:

Karen,
There is no chemical, plant or spell I know of that repels snakes — we have tested them all extensively. Common sense is all that’s needed. We teach people to keep their homes and gardens neat and tidy as rodents attract snakes, and piles of rubble provide the perfect refuge.

Sean Bush says:

Keep doing what you are doing Thea: saving people from snakes and snakes from people.

Thea says:

Thank you Sean. I look forward to working with you again and am absolutely positive that together, we can make a difference.

Anne Vogelbruck asks:

Being from Swaziland and knowing the Lubombo area where you do most of your work, I know how remote it is, how bad the roads are and how few hospitals and clinics there are. Do you receive any financial or moral support from parastatals or governments, or do you have to find funds yourself to keep this programme going?

Thea says:

Anne,
Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, we have been unsuccessful in obtaining moral or financial support. Up to now, Clifton and I have personally funded the costs of the call-outs, which are substantial considering the number of snakes we rescue. Snakebite, in Swaziland, is a cruel reality that is fast reaching epidemic proportions. People are being maimed and are dying because antivenom is not readily available and even if it were, is so expensive that the ordinary citizen cannot afford the treatment. We try our best to assist as many snakebite victims as possible by supplying antivenom, paying for medical care and counseling, but are limited financially. Tragic but true.

Heather asks:

How does the black mamba compare overall to the Australian Tai-Pan?

Thea says:

Heather,
Any snake that has the ability to kill a person is, as far as I’m concerned, number 1 on the list. Current studies use mice (how long it takes to kill the critter) as a benchmark, called the LD50 test. This doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. What needs to be considered is how common the snake is, number of bites, number of deaths, etc. to determine how dangerous the snake is. Although the Tai-Pan is considered one of the most venomous, it’s not necessarily the most dangerous or deadly snake. Who cares where the snake comes on the list LD50 list -– if it can kill you, it’s deadly.

Debra and Mike ask:

We will be doing mission work in South Ethopia and Central Kenya in June and July. What do you advise us to do in order to be as safe as possible from unwelcomed snakes?

Thea says:

Debra and Mike,
What I would suggest you do is find out which venomous snakes occur in the area, what they look like and where to go in the case of a medical emergency. Many rural or even government clinics and hospitals do not have antivenom so make sure the clinic you choose has knowledgeable staff and a good supply of the life-saving drug. Find out who offers snakebite first-aid courses -– knowledge is power. When you are in Africa you need to be vigilant and aware at all times. Make sure your clothing is appropriate, that you keep the doors and windows closed and always, but always, check your shoes before you put them on!

Heather Johnstone asks:

Regarding snake bite care, have you explored homeopathic remedies? These can be low cost and very effective for this type of issue. The snake bite homeopathic remedies can be made from the tiniest bit of venom.

Thea says:

Heather,
To be honest I have not studied the option in detail. The local traditional healers in Swaziland use what can only be described as a homeopathic treatment. Although I do not know the exact ingredients, I know they use roots, bark and venom. Too often the only option many people here have is to visit traditional healers as they are easily accessible and affordable, and although many traditional remedies are very effective for some ailments, they are totally unable to treat the life-threatening consequences of a venomous snakebite, such as that of a black mamba.

Bryn Evans (via his mom, Aimee) asks:

Bryn would like to know how pervasive black mambas are in Africa: Just in Swaziland or all over? What other deadly snakes are a “problem” in Swaziland?

Thea says:

Bryn,
The black mamba is found in Swaziland, Mozambique, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, Angola, Namibia, Malawi, and the Congo. There are seven deadly snakes in Swaziland: Mozambique spitting cobra, snouted cobra, forest cobra (vary rare), rinkhals, puff adder, boomslang and vine snake. The snake responsible for most bites in Swaziland is the Mozambique spitting cobra and is extremely common (we rescue close to 250 a season). A bite from this snake in particular is terrible. It causes massive tissue damage and requires extensive medical treatment and rehabilitation. Bites from puff adders are also common. They are active at night, brilliantly camouflaged and as a defense mechanism, freeze when approached (most other snakes will flee). This is when they get stepped on and the consequence is a defensive bite. Then there is the snouted cobra, which, in my opinion, is the “forgotten” snake. It has venom very similar to that of the black mamba, is very common, and gets away with murder!

Graham asks:

The program said you implanted 4 snakes but only three were mentioned later –- did one die, and if so, was it recovered and the cause of death determined? Have you implanted any others subsequently?

Thea says:

Graham,
In actual fact 11 snakes were fitted with transmitters. Because the documentary is only an hour long, a decision was made to highlight the movement of 4 only. All the snakes that were part of the study are still doing extremely well -– except for poor Twiggy that is.

Helen Ayiteyfio asks:

What part of Swaziland are these black mambas the most common? I was watching your show on PBS here in Atlanta, Georgia and I am originally from Swaziland in Nhlangano.

Thea says:

Helen,
Hi there! Good to hear from an (ex) Swazi. Black mambas are very common in the hot lowveld areas -– basically the Lubombo region that includes areas like Big Bend, Simunye, Tambankulu, Mhlume and Tshaneni.

Brandy asks:

Dear Thea,
What has been your biggest obstacle to overcome with educating people in Swaziland? I do domesticated snake education (no deadly snakes for me!) but am often astonished by the fears and prejudices I have to overcome with my perfectly safe, nonvenomous pets.

Thea says:

Brandy,
One of the most difficult questions I get asked is, “How can you be so passionate about snakebite victims and snakes?” The people in Swaziland fear and hate snakes –- very often with good reason. Going on a call-out to catch a snake that has just killed a child is heartbreaking. The family members want me to kill the snake immediately. They want revenge! The hatred is often palpable. Can I blame them? No. Until we can improve or eliminate the current mortality rate, it will remain a precarious situation. It is our ambition to seek funds to build a medical centre in the Lowveld of eastern Swaziland, where most venomous snakes occur.  This clinic will distribute antivenom where needed, treat snake bite victims and provide the aftercare to patients who have been bitten.  It will be coupled with a reptile park where snake venom will be reaped for the production of antivenom and an education centre where I will endeavour to teach people to recognise, handle and prevent unnecessary snakebites and, at the same time, conserve our wonderful reptile population.

Delores McElroy asks:

How expensive is anti-venom? How can a fund be started to assist in this matter?

Thea says:

Delores,
Antivenom is very expensive and unaffordable for most people here in Swaziland. The cost to treat one mamba bite is about $1,000 — almost a year’s salary for many people. Education and the availability of anti-venom are required to stem the ever increasing snakebite tragedies. We must continue to visit schools, communities, companies and hospitals to educate people on the correct first-aid and medical treatment. We need to increase people’s knowledge of snakes. They need to identify and differentiate between venomous and non-venomous snakes. They must be taught what to do when they encounter a venomous snake. Many are bitten while trying to kill snakes. But, most importantly, we need to assure that our medical facilities are adequately equipped to deal with snakebite. Antivenom is the only specific cure for a venomous snakebite, without which more lives and limbs will most surely be lost. Please have a look at our webpage: www.antivenomswazi.org.

Phil Gent asks:

The young girl who lost her life to a mamba bite, if she had boots would that have saved her life? How do you donate items or money for anti-venom for those poor individuals in Swaziland?

Thea says:

Phil,
Unfortunately boots would not have helped her. Tengetile was playing hide-and-seek with her younger brothers and sisters and was hiding behind a termite mound when she got bitten on her back. The snake must have been sunning itself on the mound and when she crouched behind it, the snake was startled and bit defensively. She ran to her homestead, which was only a few hundred meters away, to look for her mother. Symptoms were almost immediate because of the location of the bite (torso) and because she ran (venom spread rapidly though her system). She didn’t stand a chance. Please visit our webpage: www.antivenomswazi.org.

Tanya asks:

How hard is it to catch a black mamba?

Thea says:

Tanya,
It’s not very difficult; there is a specific technique we use, which is totally different to catching any other snake. What makes it tricky is the location of the snake. Sugarcane is the most frightening -– you can’t see where you are going, the cane cuts your hands and face and the mud makes it almost impossible to walk. Second on the nightmare list is probably a room filled with furniture or junk –- at night… The old heart beats furiously and the hands remain a little clammy until it’s spotted.

Chris Johnson asks:

I was so glad I caught the show because that had to of been the greatest show highlighting the black mamba continue the great work and the only question I have is are you still tracking the mambas and if you are could you email progress you have made and also if that was Sean Bush the venom 911 physician I would like to say im a hugh fan of yours.

Thea says:

Chris,
Thank you for the compliments! Because of the relatively short lifespan of the telemetry units all the snakes that were part of the telemetry study were recently recaptured and the telemetry units removed. The data collected will be analyzed and a paper published shortly. I will tell Dr. Bush he has another fan!

Tanya asks:

How many minutes do you live when you get bitten by a black mamba?

Thea says:

Tanya,
There are several factors that affect the severity of a bite. Snakes have the ability to control how much venom they inject. A “dry” bite means they do not inject any venom at all (unfortunately this doesn’t happen very often with a mamba) or they inject just a little, classified as a mild/moderate bite, or if you are really unlucky they give it everything they’ve got and this will result in full envenomation, called a severe bite. It also depends on the body size of the victim, the position of the bite (torso and head are the worst), physical condition of the victim, first-aid applied, etc. It can take anything from a few minutes to three hours to die.

Spencer Ward asks:

Thea I saw your show on PBS and noticed that you used snake tongs from Midwest but what brand of tong was Clifton using…..they didn’t look familiar at all. Thanks Spencer

Thea says:

Spencer,
Clifton’s tongs were custom-made by someone in South Africa and have fondly been nicknamed the Decapitator. They are very gentle but extremely heavy, not ideal to work with if you are a woman or if the rescue takes a while.

Kevin Plitt asks:

Thea Can I come Work at you snake park and help catch and educate people about snakes its my destiny!!!???
Kevin

Thea says:

Kevin,
I love it when people are passionate about snakes! Unfortunately work permits are almost impossible to get in our line of work. The government is very strict and has never approved any of our applications.

Patricia Haythorne asks:

Oh, it does my heart good to see how you are doing with the black mamba. I just think you are a very wonderful person, to be spending your time in the pursuit of saving animals and saving people. The U.S. is a violent, kill, kill country, so I am really really happy to see you on PBS. THANK YOU, THANK YOU. wORDS JUST CANNOT EXPRESS HOW APPRECIATIVE i AM, FOR YOU AND FOR YOUR HUSBAND.

Thea says:

Patricia,
Thank YOU for your kind words and encouragement. It’s not always easy to find the balance in life, to understand that every creature plays an important role in the circle of life. If we had to destroy every animal that could cause us harm, there would be precious little left.

Virginia asks:

Excellent fascinating show! What did happen to Twiggy?

Thea says:

Virginia,
Twiggy was my favourite mamba. She was always very calm and allowed us to approach within a few feet. More often than not, we would spot her near the rat breeding cages. About a month into the telemetry study Philane found her there again but this time the rats had attacked and killed her.

Christine Brownfield asks:

I found your program to be really fascinating and the work you are doing will benefit not only people but the black mamba itself. What I really loved was the fact [that] you have a pet orphaned baby warthog!!! How adorable! I fell in love with warthogs when I traveled in Namibia in 2007 (fortunately the safaris were in May not during snake season!!) It is a shame that the government of Swaziland does not make more effort to provide treatment and antimvenom for its people, considering those rather impressive sugar cane plantations, seems like there is money floating around.

Thea says:

Christine,
Piggy is no longer a cute baby but an extremely large pig! She absolutely adores Clifton, probably because he lets her get away with murder. We are letting her roam as she pleases and she is often away for days on end. Every now and then we spot her with a large group of wild pigs but she always comes back for a scratch and a treat.

John asks:

Thea, great program. Good to see Swaziland after many years. Where exactly do you live? You cannot cover the whole country, small as SD is – how far do you go on rescue mussions? Where is the game park you mention? I taught at schools near Nhlangano, in Manzini and Ezulwini many years ago with the Peace Corps.

Thea says:

John,
Thank you, glad you liked it. I am based at Simunye, in the northeast of Swaziland. When we first started assisting with the removal of problematic snakes, Clifton and I covered the entire country. It was very difficult, and we often had up to 15 people waiting for us to come to the rescue. For the last few years I have been running snake ID, first-aid and handling courses. Now there are three people based in the Mbabane/Ezulweni area that assist with call-outs in that area. They do not catch mambas (not that we get too many requests from that area) but are very willing and prepared to catch everything else. A very good friend of mine, Chad, based in Big Bend, goes on call-outs in that area. He is absolutely brilliant and catches all snakes and other reptiles -– you should see that youngster run -– no snake can get away from him! All of these people are volunteers; they use their own private vehicles, time and money.

The reptile park was based in Nsoko, close to Big Bend. The park did not belong to us, we only rented the premises. About six months after the film crew left Swaziland, we received notice that the owner intended to increase the rent by 300 percent. Guess he thought the exposure was going to bring in millions. It became totally unaffordable, and we had no choice but to leave. The reptile park has since been changed into a restaurant. This is why the King gave us a piece of land, to build a new reptile park and snake bite clinic. We are still rescuing snakes, visiting schools, assisting bite victims and doing what we always do -– just have to start from scratch with the reptile park.

Joe asks:

Is it possible to set bait traps for mambas, or is active trapping currently the only way to catch them?

Thea says:

Joe,
Traps do work to some extent, especially if it is a place that we can’t reach.

Susan Whitney says:

Hello :) Bless your heart for all your work and research. At this moment, my husband and I are watching your captivating show on PBS. I’m writing to you from Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.
Stay safe! :)
Susan

Thea says:

Hi Susan! Thanks!

Kerri Muir asks:

Hi Thea,
When watching this program and seeing how many people are maimed or killed by these snakes, I just thought “Why couldn’t each village have at least one shot of the anti-venom?” How costly is this venom? Wouldn’t there be a way to get people (Americans) involved in an effort to raise funds to provide each village with a sort of “Emergency Call Box” with an anti-venom shot in it -– located centrally in the village? If they would at least have that chance, then they might buy some time to make it to a hospital or medical facility.

Thea says:

Kerri,
That would be ideal, but unfortunately it’s not that easy. Antivenom is a wonder drug, there is no doubt about it, but it also a drug that can have severe and deadly side effects. It should only be administered by someone who is trained to recognise these symptoms. The second problem is the quantity required to treat a bite. For a mamba bite, a minimum of 8 vials (often much more) is needed to neutralize the venom. The third problem is the cost. It is expensive. One vial costs about $100. Together with some passionate friends like Dr. Sean Bush, David Williams and many more, we are trying to raise funds and find sponsors to stock the hospitals and clinics with enough antivenom to treat the victims. Please have a look at our webpage: www.antivenomswazi.org.

Nancy asks:

Do you at least have anti-venom for yourself? Have you ever been asked to milk the black mamba for its venom to help produce anti-venom? Have you ever considered writing a book about your snake job? Thank you for the courage to help others.

Thea says:

Nancy,
Yes, we do have a supply — we always keep enough to treat one serious mamba bite. If we have anything extra, it is used to assist other snakebite victims. Yes, we have been asked and have milked our mambas and other snakes for the production of antivenom. Hahaha… No, I have never thought of writing a book!

Lana asks:

Is it true that black mambas have been introduced to the Miami area (USA) by people who got them as pets and then released them in the wild? And if so…any idea if there is anti-venom anywhere in the State of Florida?

Thea says:

Lana,
The response to your question by Dr. Sean Bush: “Don’t know about ‘introduced,’ but we do get the occasional rogue mamba loose around southern California, Florida, etc. Antivenom can be located via the Antivenom Index, which is a joint database compiled by the American Association of Poison Control Centers and American Zoological Association.”

Peter E asks:

Do these snakes have any predators? And if you keep capturing them and throwing them back, isn’t the problem going to get worse?

Thea says:

Peter,
Yes, they do have many predators. One of the biggest threats to snakes in general is man. For every snake we rescue, hundreds get killed. Then there are birds, other snakes (some snakes just eat other snakes), etc. As the human population encroaches onto their territory, the interaction between snakes and humans increases, and we have to learn how to coexist with them. Many animals pose a threat, we cannot possibly eradicate every threat. The balance is extremely fragile — without snakes we will have an infestation of rodents, the rodents will kill all the insects, without insects… and so forth. The telemetry study taught us that the home range of mambas is surprisingly small. The areas selected to release the rescued snakes are far from humans, and they can exist there without posing any threat to human life.

Mike asks:

Thanks for the reply Thea! Just out of curousity what is the largest [length wise] black mamba you have ever seen or caught? I know that sites claim that they can reach 13 ft+ with the average adult black mamba being about 7.5-8.5 ft long but what is the largest black mamba that you have ever caught or seen?

Thea says:

Mike,
The largest mamba we have caught here in Swaziland was just shy of 10 ft, an impressive sight! The average size is about 8.2 – 9.1 ft. I have seen a picture of a 14 ft mamba that was caught in Natal, South Africa.

Jack Hilliard asks:

Hi Thea:
Thank you for the great work you are doing with the mambas and people of Swaziland. I love snakes and would love to help. Could a fund be set up to buy anti venom for snake bite victims? If one already exists, please let me know and my wife and I would like
to donate. Thanks again.

Thea says:

Jack,
Great to meet a fellow snake lover! We have established a trust. Please see www.antivenomswazi.org for more information.

Nick asks:

I read that you keep enough anti-venom for one mamba bite… does it go on call outs with you or require refrigeration?

Thea says:

Nick,
We keep 20 vials of polyvalent anti-venom and 2 vials of monovalent anti-venom, enough to treat a very serious mamba bite (or Boomslang bite – monovalent). Although we always have a first-aid kit in the vehicle, we do not always take anti-venom with us for call-outs that are relatively close. We do take it if we have to travel more than 2 hours or so. Anti-venom should preferably only be used in a hospital setting as it can cause severe and deadly side effects.

Cesar asks:

Thea
Why choose black mamba when there are plenty of other snakes in the area?

Thea says:

Cesar,
We do not only work with black mambas. In a season we rescue more than 500 snakes, of which 80 – 120 are black mambas. In Swaziland there are 83 species. The Mozambique spitting cobra is the most common and is also the snake responsible for most bites. The puff adder, rock python, boomslang, and snouted cobra are also very common. We rescue and relocate them all.

Rich says:

I live in an area with few venomous snakes-NY and we have other ways of dealing with rodents. I find it hard to believe these people need to die from snake bites to control the rodent population. The mamba population should be thinned out. There are [nonvenomous] snakes and other predators that can control the rodent population.

Thea says:

Rich,
When the film crew approached us to film what we do my biggest fear was that the black mamba would be demonised. All snakes bite defensively, very often when they are stepped on, and more often than not, when people try to kill them. It is important to note that we work with many different snakes. The black mamba is not Swaziland’s biggest problem, it is only responsible for about 10 percent of bites. The Mozambique spitting cobra, for instance, is responsible for 80 percent of bites and causes massive tissue destruction, and many people and children have to spend months receiving re-constructive surgery. Too many have limbs amputated.

We keep data on all the different species and use this information to monitor numbers, health and distribution of the different species. Nature seems to control the numbers naturally. Some years we find relatively few snakes in general, especially during years of drought.

Rich, I understand how you feel, but you need to realize that the documentary was filmed during a few short summer months, it does not show all the call-outs — only 4 out of about 500! The local people are afraid of snakes, but most are behind us 100 percent and are proud of their own contribution they play in the conservation of of all the reptile species.

Cliff Charlesworth asks:

I lived in Joh`burg for 10yrs. and visited Sudwala caves in the`80`s and stayed at the Royal Swazi Hotel. When I emerged from the caves into the strong sunlight I was temporarily blinded but heard a hiss on my left and when I focused I saw the head of a brown looking snake with a web neck about 4ft off of the ground and about 6ft. away and I stood stock still (I think with terror). It lowered to the ground and slid off at great speed. How close was I to being attacked please?
Cliff Charlesworth

Thea says:

Cliff,
I am not sure what snake this might have been. It must have been a cobra – either Mozambique spitting cobra or, more likely, a snouted cobra (previously know as the Egyptian cobra). A snouted cobra is extremely dangerous and has the same neurotoxic venom as the black mamba. The “hiss” was a warning to keep your distance – standing dead still is always the right thing to do as snakes will not bite if they do not feel threatened. If you had moved any closer or tried to hit it, there is a good chance that the snake would have bitten you (purely out of defense).  Snakes do not see very well at all and mainly follow movement. Even if a snake crawls over you, as long as you do not move, you will be fine. Once, during a call-out in a tiny room, a cobra crawled right up my leg!

 

Carly asks:

How fast is the black mamba. Were does it live, and [what] does it eat

Thea says:

Carly,
Mambas are not as fast as many people believe and can only move about 15-18 kilometers per hour [approximately 9-11 miles per hour]. You can easily outrun them. They live in most African countries. They eat all kinds of rodents and sometimes birds.

 

 
Jennifer B. asks:

Sorry to bombard you with questions after watching such a wonderful show, but I am ever curious. My first question is how exactly is the mamba anti venom made? Do they still increasing injection doses on horses to manufacture the anti venom or is some other animal more common in use. Secondly do they make the anti venom on hand in Swaziland or is it manufactured elsewhere and then shipped in. Secondly is the World Health organization doing anything to try to provide anti venom, or are they ignoring this problem? Since I know that anti venom requires refrigeration (or at least being kept cool) to maintain a decent shelf life, are there plans underway to build some kind of medical ‘waystations’ with solar refrigeration units? I really am impressed by this study and look forward to reading/seeing further results of your studies. Keep up the excellent work and best of wishes on both your studies and staying safe.

Thea says:

 
Jennifer,
Thank you for your interesting questions! Anti venom is still made by milking the venom from the snakes which is then injected into horses and sometimes pigs or sheep. The horses do not suffer at all. Some people are now injecting themselves with venom as well – the body builds up an immunity to the venom. This has to be done on a regular basis, often once a week, to be effective. [Do not attempt this.]
 
They do not make anti-venom in Swaziland. It gets produced in South Africa (the type we use anyway). Unfortunately we very often have to wait up to 3 months for stock!
 
WHO is not helping us at the moment. I have tried my best to get them involved but still no luck – but I am not giving up! Sooner or later they are going to get tired of my emails, calls and letters. :)
 
Most of the rural clinics already have power and refrigeration, unfortunately they do not have any anti-venom to put inside!!
 
Thank you for the compliments.


 
John asks:

Hello Thea, That has got to be one of the most scariest things to do. Do you ever have times when you are especially afraid. Here in North Carolina I have two resident black snakes in my shop. I enjoy seeing them though they are very shy and usually hide immediately. I have never handled them, I don’t think they would let me so I don’t try. I don’t know if they realize that I enjoy their company when I work in my shop. My wife and daughter will not come anywhere near the shop. I enjoyed the program it is good to learn something about these snakes. Thanks John.

Thea says:

John,
Do you know what species they are? It’s best not to disturb them if you want them to hang around, they will move off immediately if they feel their refuge has been compromised. Black mambas can, and do, often live undisturbed in the same place for up to 10 years. It is wonderful to know that you are happy to share your shop!  Why don’t you find out if someone offers ID and handling courses in your area? Then you can also start removing unwelcome guests?


 
Aarjan Snoek says:

Hi Thea, watched your show tonight, thanks was excellent! I used to live 10 km from the Swaziland Jeppe’s reef border, and used to get upset when snakes were killed, I suspect this still gets done a lot, in a year there i saw a boomslang (too close for comfort), Moz spitting cobra, and black mambas were breeding on our neighbour’s roof. Unfortunately the black mambas were killed, if i had known someone was willing/ brave enough to come remove them this would have been our first port of call, there are so many more snakes that are being killed daily that could be saved if more people could be trained to deal with them appropriately! I wish someone could do in South Africa what you guys are doing in Swaziland! Keep up the good work thank-you

Thea says:

Aarjan,
Unfortunately thousands of snakes are still being killed. Some people just do not understand that they actually provide us with a great service. If there is one snake you do not have to worry about, it is a boomslang. They very rarely bite even when handled – not that I’m saying they can or should be PLEASE! There are quite a few people that will remove snakes for free! Have a look at www.sareptiles.co.za for names and numbers in your area (if you are still in South Africa that is). In the case of a black mamba, please just make sure they know what they are doing. There is a specific technique, otherwise it can all go horribly wrong.

 

Patsy Moss says:

Hi Thea
No questions! Just to say what a fantastic job you are doing; such fascinating, misunderstood creatures. I’m full of admiration. I’ll be in Kruger in Jan and Feb – hope to see and learn more about mambas and other snakes. Keep up the good work. Thanks to you and your helpers also Clifton!! for joining in with you, really brave!! Especially as it wasn’t quite his thing!!

Thea says:

Patsy,
Thank you! You should see some snakes in the Kruger, especially if you drive very slowly at night on tar roads. It’s illegal to pick them up (even outside the park), so just appreciate them from a distance. If you decide to go on a night-drive, ask your guide to keep an eye as well.

Dee Royston asks:

 
A child was bitten in my garden in South Africa (property bordered on Parks Board) by a night adder. How does this compare with the bite of a black mamba? 2ndly we had a huge black mamba in the laundry it thrashed around knocking over coke bottles etc before it managed to find its way back out – I was terrified that it was going to attack my kids & dogs so I was running around like a looney trying to get them all inside. Following day, we had a boomslang hanging down from the avocado tree – the dogs were all barking at it. A snakes haven you could say.

Thea says: 

Dee,
The bite of a night adder is not all that serious but can be quite painful. The venom is cytotoxic, totally different to that of the neurotoxic mamba venom. The bite site will be painful and can become quite swollen, and there might be slight tissue damage. Anti-venom is not needed or effective as it is not part of the polyvalent cocktail.

I can just imagine the scene (LOL) with both snake and human running in separate directions! Please remember to remain calm and do not run – better yet, do not move – if you ever come into close contact with a snake. It’s a good idea to teach your children what to do in that kind of situation, it can save their lives. There are many people like myself who offer ID, first-aid and handling courses… sounds as if it might come in handy in your case!

Tim Hallam asks:

Hello Thea, excellant work! so you’ve got great herps in Swaziland And you run a hotel ummm! ever thought about organising herpetological field trips it would bring in much needed revenue to aid anti-venene distribution and aftercare
regards Tim Hallam.

Thea says:

Tim,
Thank you! We have and do sometimes organise field trips, but I do not always have the time… got to work to pay the bills! Many great herpetologists have come to visit from all over the world to collect DNA samples and just scratch around for interesting species — always love having them around.

Bridget asks:

Thea I watched your story on TV last night (in UK). May I just say that you are the most formidable woman I have witnessed in a very long time. I grew up in South Africa and my dad had to remove many snakes from our house in the KZN south coast. It was always a terrifying experience. I’ve always said “africa is not for sissies” and after watching your program last night I remembered why! Keep doing the good work you are doing. Have you tried approaching any NGO’s for funding or perhaps set yourself up as a charity? I wish you the best. Please stay safe.

Thea says:

Bridget,
Thank you very much, Bridget, for your kind words, and I have to agree with you 100 percent. Africa is most definitely not for sissies! If the snakes don’t get you, the ticks will — and if you escape them, the heat will!

We are discussing the problems we Swazis are facing with WHO and other organizations and hope to receive a positive response soon. Unfortunately summer is here and we are already faced with numerous bites and have no antivenom. If you would like to help, please visit: www.antivenomswazi.org.

SNAKEFAN asks:

Hey thea I just wanted to ask you a question. I recall hearing an account where during one of your field trips a black mamba was attacked by 4 dogs. The mamba then proceded to bite and kill all four dogs but died a week later from dog bite wounds. Is this story true? I have heard that you personally witnessed this incident, is this a true story? Do black mambas often kill dogs?

Thea says:

Snakefan,
Yes it is true, black mambas will kill a dog or several dogs if threatened and it happens quite often. We also find dead cows and horses! We were called by the frantic family late one evening. When we arrived minutes later, two small dogs had already died and two more were showing severe symptoms of envenomation. Within 15 minutes we had found and bagged the snake. By this time the other two dogs were also dead. The snake must have been moving through the garden when it was attacked by the dogs. It would have struck out defensively, biting all the dogs that came within reach. The snake was bitten in several places on its body as well and died about a week later.

Shawn asks:

Can a person survive from a Mamba bite if they are placed on a manual respirator? Or a hospital respirator? What about anti-venom and the above? Would you recommend keeping snake tongs around the home for safety measure? Thanks, Shawn

Thea says:

Shawn,
Most certainly. Without antivenom a ventilator will keep a person alive until the venom is worked out of the system which takes about 11 days. If a person is already on a ventilator and antivenom is administered, the patient will be able to be removed from the ventilator much sooner (actually within a day or so – it works incredibly fast).

I would only suggest that you keep snake tongs if you have been trained to remove or work with snakes. The course should include snake ID and basic first-aid.