ZAMBIA & TANZANIA
2003


"Water Cobra"

Isanga Bay & Chisanza, Zambia


 

Left: Zambian southeastern shore of Lake Tanganyika with main locations indicated

 

Above: Chisanza and Isanga Bay with perfect water cobra habitat on the rocky peninsula

Locations for OBA film 4:3
Lake Tanganyika

(click on maps to enlarge)

South of Kalambo Lodge was another tourist lodge at Isanga Bay that became a regular water cobra search location for the expedition, because of an extensive rocky promontory that offered perfect water cobra habitat. Thomas Madsen, a Swedish herpetologist who had conducted fieldwork on the endemic Lake Tanganyika watersnake (Lycodonomorphus bicolor) along the southern coastline during the early 1980s, reported that water cobras were relatively common around this promontory.

Looking southwest from Isanga Bay rocky promontory towards Mpulungu
Isanga Bay rocky promontory, water cobra habitat
Searching the rocks with Mimi, Toutou and Fifi,
Jack Russell's belonging to Isanga Bay Lodge manager Rene

 

Lake Tanganyika watersnake, Lycodonomorphus bicolor, the commonest snake on the lake

The commonest snake on the lake was undoubtedly the Lake Tanganyika water snake (Lycodonomorphus bicolor) that Madsen studied in the early 1980s. They were especially common on moonless nights and we had plenty of those, but we also found a few abroad on well-lit nights. Most of our 85 watersnakes were found around the rocks at Isanga Bay or enroute back to Kalambo Lodge, but they were also seen as far north as Kasanga, Tanzania. Most were also captured on the surface during the night but one was seen on the bottom of the lake during a daytime diving trip.

It was impossible to search for snakes around Isanga Bay and exclude the three Jack Russell terriers belonging to Lodge manager Rene. Named Mimi, Toutou and Fifi after the two Royal Navy gunboats, transported overland to Lake Tanganyika, and the commandeered German gunboat, all of which participated in the Battle for Lake Tanganyika, these three dogs were inveterate snake hunters and would turn up with minutes of our arrival. There was no option but to include them in the film or suffer continual sound problems during filming.

Chisanza village, welcomed by children, the bath house where the cobra was captured in visible in the background of the right hand image

Chisanza village, up the coast from Isanga Bay, also featured in our itinerary as we received two snake calls to the village. Working with Tanzanian snake catcher Fiti, I failed to locate the spitting cobra that had sprayed a woman entering a storehouse in the village. Michael attended to his patient which was reported to us as "cobra broke my aunt's eyes".

We were more successful with the other cobra call-out capturing a Forest cobra (Naja melanoleuca) in the straw and cane double-walls of a bath house in the village.

Forest cobra, Naja melanoleuca,
at the moment of capture

We took the cobra back to Kalambo Lodge for venom extraction and photography the next day.

Fiji and Mark posing the Forest cobra for photography
Attracting the attention of the hooding cobra
One for the album

 

Forest cobra, Naja melanoleuca, from the bath house at Chisanza

As our search for a water cobra hotted up Toby Veall brought in about thirty of his fish collectors to snorkel or dive along the rocky promontory but although one claimed to have seen a cobra in a fissure no water cobras were captured.

Toby brought out his local fish catchers to
search for water cobras at Isanga Bay