We're not afraid of no snakes!
Part of Week 1 Training Week for the new volunteers includes a trip to the local Reptile Park, Khamai.
Khamai provides an in-depth look into the world of reptiles of all sorts, with a strong ethical emphasis on conservation and the protection of our scaly friends. Their message being “you don’t have to love snakes, just don’t kill them”, their method being to educate people about snake behaviour so they can see snakes are not aggressive persecutors of people.
The Orientation Programme that the volunteers are booked on starts with a comprehensive and highly interesting presentation in the lecture theatre, covering topics such as the key features of reptiles, the differences between snakes and lizards, the biology of snakes, tooth structure and venom differences and (for shock value) some gory photos of people that have been bitten by various venomous snakes.
Next the volunteers enjoyed a tour around all the enclosures housing things from the scary black mambas and huge pythons to the cute little tortoises. After this, and much to the surprise of some of the volunteers, they were then asked to assist feeding the chameleons by putting a mealworm between their lips and flaunting it in front of the chameleon’s face until the chameleon gives them a nice sloppy kiss and takes the worm with their sticky tongue. The volunteers also got the chance to hand-feed beautiful and friendly Giant Plated Lizards and wear a Burmese Python like a scarf.
Finally the morning ended with an up-close encounter with 3 of the most dangerous snakes in South Africa. The Puff Adder, the snake that causes the most dangerous bites in South Africa, the Boomslang, the most venomous snake in Africa, and a rather large and temperamental Snouted Cobra, the most feared snake in Southern Africa.
The demonstrator expertly handled all three snakes just a couple of metres away from the volunteers, showing how the snakes are in fact not aggressive and not out to get us, but merely act in self-defense and spend all their energies in trying to escape us rather than trying to attack us. He explained to the volunteers that the only people that get bitten by snakes are those that try to catch or kill snakes, demonstrating this by stepping on the Puff Adder (with a fake leg – not his own!) and not getting bitten. A fact that I can attest for myself, having trodden on a Puff Adder whilst walking in the bush one day. He also pointed out a few shocking statistics like the fact that more people die from infection from being bitten by other humans than from being bitten by snakes and that you are more likely to be struck by lightning than you are to be bitten by a dangerous snake.
It was an extremely educational and interesting day out and even the volunteers that started the day admitting to “not being great fans of snakes” have gone away with a new appreciation and understanding of them now. A win-win for volunteers and snakes alike!
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