SOUTH AFRICA
2003


"Spitting Cobra"

Eshowe, Empangeni & Richards Bay, KwaZulu-Natal

 

Northern KwaZulu-Natal.

We made several trips south to Eshowe and Empangeni, following the storyline in the schedule and responding to unscheduled snake call-outs.

At Empangeni we filmed at the hospital which probably sees and treats more Mozambique spitting cobra bites than any other in S.Africa. The doctor in charge, Paul Rollinson, showed us some of his recent patients, often young children, who had been bitten by spitters.

The bites were much more serious than the ophthalmic accidents. Venom in the eye is easily and quickly flushed out and the cornea can recover within a week, but bites from spitters, with their cytotoxic venom, take a lot longer to heal and often require skin grafts and result in extensive scaring, loss of limb use or even loss of limbs. Deaths from spitting cobra bites are, thankfully, very rare.

At Eshowe we visited a Zulu school and spoke to the children about the feared Mfezi (Mozambique spitting cobra in Zulu) and introduced them to a Southern African rock python (Python natalensis) Donald had brought along for the purpose.

Visiting a Zulu school near Eshowe.

We then visited a British war grave containing the remains of soldiers from "The Buffs" (3rd East Kent Regiment of Foot) who persished in the Sieze of Eshowe (1879) when the garrison was surrounded by Zulus. I am very interested in mititary history and might have followed a career in history if not in herpetology.

We filmed Donald's python crawling in long grass - in my experience graveyards are a good location for snakes - but true to the spirit of OBA we did not suggest that we had caught the python here, it was just a prop for the filming.

 

The graveyard at Eshowe where British soldiers who die during the Siege of Eshowe (1879) are buried.
Mark in the Eshowe British Army graveyard.
He is fascinated by military history and would have probably been a historian if he wasn't an herpetologist.
Donald's Southern African rock python,
Python natalensis, on one of the memorials.
Film crew at Eshowe British Army graveyard (L-R):
Roger Finnigan (director), Ross Neasham (sound)
and Mark Stokes (camera).

 

We received several call-outs from this area, removing a Red-lipped Herald snake* (Crotaphopeltis hotamboeia) from a shop in Eshowe and a Forest cobra (Naja melanoleuca) from under a bed in a house in Empangeni.

Being a non-spitting cobra, this last specimen was of no use for our spitting experiments. Forest cobras from southern Africa are brown anteriorly and black posteriorly, in contrast to the glossy black specimens from West Africa, there are thought to be several species hiding in this one widespread species.

Red-lipped Herald snake, Crotaphopeltis hotamboeia

*This is possibly the only snake with a common name from a newspaper, the Eastern Province Herald which first reported its presence in South Africa.

Forest cobra, Naja melanoleuca

 

Mark possing the Forest cobra, Naja melanoleuca, for the camera.

 

At Richards Bay we did obtain a Mozambique spitting cobra (Naja mossambica).

 

An adult Mozambique spitting cobra, Naja mossambica, from Richards Bay.

 

 

So which is the Mozambique spitting cobra and which is the non-spitting Forest cobra ?
Take your pick and test your identification by clicking on the image (there is a clue).