The Ambitious Puff Adder…

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What amazes me is the diversity of different creatures and the different ecosystems that can be found in the world famous Okavango Delta. Coming to the Okavango solely to see lion and leopard is like going to the Grand Canyon wearing a blindfold. There is so much more to the Delta than the ‘Big 5’. Although these majestic creatures are amazing to see, and yes they are a spectacle to behold, there is so much more to the bush than just those animals. Working in this environment I have found that most people are equally interested in the smaller part of the Animalia Kingdom in addition to the larger – in particular snakes.

Snakes are fascinating not only because of their shy and elusive nature, but all the mythology that goes behind them. Mostly looked at as evil creatures who will actively hunt down humans to bite them, nothing could be further from the truth. Snakes by nature are incredibly shy and other than a few exceptions, they will generally disappear long before a person can get close to them.

One of my favorite snakes is the puff adder (Bitis arietans). Arguably one of the fastest striking snakes on the planet, this strikingly beautiful snake is responsible for over 60% of serious snakebites a year, and 75% of all snakebite deaths a year. This can be due to the fact that, like humans, they are diurnal, and prefer to lay in wait on pathways or in bushes. They are part of the family Viperidae which means they are short sluggish snakes who tend to rely on their camouflage than actively hunt prey. In my experience, one of the best ways to find these snakes is by using birds to locate them. Starlings in particular have a very harsh rasping alarm call that they use to alert others to a snakes presence in the area. On one occasion I was alerted by the calls of several Burchell’s starlings, and upon inspection found a rather large puff adder sitting in a bush behind the camp I was working at. I left to collect my camera and when I arrived back five minutes later I found the puff adder with a nice big meal in the shape of one of the starlings sliding down his throat. Starlings are brave and are generally very fast at dive-bombing, but that day was obviously not the fastest. After watching this spectacle for a couple of minutes, the snake had completely consumed the large meal and retreated to the safety and cover of some thick vegetation. This was a very rare and unusual experience to witness, given the shy and elusive nature of snakes. The guests, who witnessed this with me, were amazed at how efficient the entire procedure was, and although terrified of snakes, they were intrigued and would not leave until the event was completed.

Small events like this one can be just as interesting as anything else found in the bush. So in future keep an eye and ear open for anything that is unusual, you might find something interesting.

James Moodie

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By James Moodie

Working in the Okavango Delta has always been James' biggest dream. James provides info from camps in Botswana.

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