The Black Mamba
The black mamba is one of the world’s most feared snakes. This infamous predator is widely considered the world’s deadliest snake – a perception inflated by myth and legend.
And why wouldn’t you be afraid with tales like these? A bite that can kill an adult within minutes; a snake that will hunt and track you down; a snake that can lift itself higher than a persons head!
Although undeniably dangerous when threatened, there is little reason to fear the black mamba because, like all snakes, attacks are a defense strategy and rarely occur unprovoked.
This concept is important and lies at the heart of the human-snake relationship. Understanding it casts our slithery friends in an entirely different, more positive, light than the norm.
When one realises that venomous snakes usually only become dangerous when interfered with, the concept of coexistence starts to look plausible.
The life or death of a snake at human hands rests on perception. Seen from the view that they’re aggressive, they will appear as the evil serpent feared by so many. View them as the vulnerable – but potentially lethally defensive – creatures that they are, this fear transforms into respect.
Unfortunately for the snakes however, driven by fear (usually of the unknown), one incident can almost instantly undo many hard-fought efforts aimed at altering public perceptions. Regardless of the cause of a bite, people appear more inclined to view the snake responsible as a heartless, cold, evil killer with no purpose other than to torment and hurt us.
In my humble opinion, I think this is wrong.
This distorted, negative, view not only drives people to needlessly kill snakes – which are predators like any other but not afforded a similar, often prestigious, status – this attitude, this belief, can directly be responsible for many incidents of snake bite.
Black Mamba Kills Boy – Who’s at Fault
Tragically, a Botswanan boy was killed by a black mamba on the 7th of January 2014.
According to Sapa, the 11 year old was collecting mopane worms from trees with his grandmother and others when they saw the black mamba.
The snake acted as they typically do when frightened and fled. For snakes like the mamba, fleeing is the preferred method of defense as it reduces any chance of injury from confrontation. Survival – not harmful intent – drives the behaviour.
The reason isn’t clear but, instead of leaving the frightened animal alone, the boy and his friends pursued it back to its shelter. The snake suddenly turned and bit the boy – a natural response when one considers that it was life or death for the snake.
Striking is usually a snake’s last line of defense. Venom is precious and energetically costly to produce. Coming within range of a much larger animal, the snake’s risk of injury or death is increased.
From the snake’s point of view the behaviour of the children was aggressive and threatening leaving it two options: be killed or defend itself. Unsurprisingly, survival instinct kicked in and the snake did what it had to to stay alive.
The boy was rushed to hospital but was sadly dead on arrival.
Superintendent Takongwa Mazwiduma, it was reported by Sapa, said that the incident was reported too late for them to take further action. He also said it was the first incident of its kind in area. As sad and devastating as the loss must be for those close to the boy, placing the blame on the snake is unfounded and doesn’t make sense.
The snake was left with no other choice but to defend itself and ultimately the incident – without wanting to sound insensitive – was down to human error and could have been avoided. Perhaps the boy was interested, perhaps he just didn’t know what he was dealing with.
Either way,as is so often the case, a good dose of knowledge might have seen a different outcome. Knowledge fosters respect and ultimately empowers people. These kinds of tragedies can be avoided, but it’s up to us – not the snakes.
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