The black mamba is Africa’s deadliest snake. Untreated, its bite has a fatality rate of 100 percent, making it a killer among killers on a continent where it is thought that nearly 20,000 people die of snake bites each year, and the residents of Swaziland in southern Africa have suffered losses for generations. With essentially no access to anti-venom, many people turn to traditional healers for help, but their herbal remedies always fail, leaving Swazis feeling fearful and defenseless against one of their nation’s most infamous killers.
Swaziland resident Clifton Koen doesn’t really care for snakes, but his wife, Thea Litschka-Koen, is crazy about them. With her husband’s sometimes reluctant help, she has endeavored to change attitudes about black mambas and other snakes found in the area. In addition to starting the nation’s only reptile park, devoted to educating the public and providing a refuge for the animals, the two have become the region’s go-to experts for safe, humane snake removal from homes, schools, resorts and workplaces. In the course of catching and relocating any number of snakes per day, Thea and Clifton give impromptu lessons about the snakes, covering fact and fiction, and do their best to prevent any unnecessary casualties – human or reptile.
In addition to their other efforts, Thea and Clifton developed a program designed 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, allowing them to follow the snakes after their release. If their research pays off, they may be able to show that their relocations are working, successfully removing snakes from residential areas for the long term, and thereby bringing some relief to the locals and some respite for the snakes.