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My Roommate in Tent #40; Mr. Black Mamba

I've never been afraid of snakes. In fact, every Saturday for three years I volunteered at the Chattahoochee Nature Center in Atlanta, Georgia a wonderful place that specializes in the rehabilitation of birds of prey and reptiles; housing the non-releasable animals. I had a favorite snake there; a corn snake that I regularly took out to docent. After retrieving her from her cage she would promptly wrapped herself around my left arm and with expert precision she would unsnap my watch closure telling me - in her own way - she knew who I was and exemplifying to me that snakes are intelligent creatures not just the slimy, scary, creepy monsters of many a nightmare.

Annually, I travel to Africa where some highly venomous snakes reside which I have a healthy respect for. Some of these snakes I have heard referred to as five steppers; meaning should you get bit by one, you have only five steps to take before you start to die. There are some species of snakes in Africa that if they bite you on the foot or hand and you don't have quick access to anti-venom many say your best option of survival is to chop off that extremity before the venom travels further into your body and vital organs. Both of those thoughts may be a bit of an exaggeration but there are - without question - killer snakes in Africa.

I have seen a few of Africa's venomous species; a puff adder in Malawi, a Mozambique spitting cobra in Botswana, but these did not in any way prepare me for seeing a black mamba; the second largest venomous snake in the world that can grow up to fourteen feet long. This snake can reach speeds of twelve miles per hour, climb very fast and lift its head off of the ground up to four feet high to strike. Its bite can easily kill a human. In other words this is a bad ass snake and I was not looking to check it off my species list of animals I saw on this trip to Africa or any other trip for that matter, but check that box I did.

During a trip to Kruger National Park in South Africa, I stayed at the Tamboti bush camp in luxury tent number forty; a highly desired accommodation situated on the corner of this fenced camp overlooking a dry riverbed. I got settled in then decided to walk the fence line to see what I could see. Not three minutes into the walk, something in a dry part of the riverbed caught my attention. It was a huge snake about fifty feet from me headed away from me. I peered through my binocular and knew right away it was a black mamba somewhere between six and eight feet long.

For a minute I couldn’t move; my feet just quit working. It was winter in South Africa not a time one would expect to see a snake therefore seeing a snake – especially a black mamba – was far from my mind. When I got my feet to work again, they promptly took me back to my tent.

From my porch I saw the snake proceed slowly to the other side of the riverbed where he slid over some rocks and went out of sight. Eventually I gathered my wits and proceeded to finish my walk on the fence line of the camp. Strangely enough seeing that deadly snake did not keep me awake the two nights I was there. There were no nightmares. I thought surprisingly little of him after he slithered over those rocks.

Once home, I posted a picture of the view from my porch from that great tent on a Kruger Facebook page mentioning all the things I saw without even leaving the tent, leopard, elephant, hippo, genet and even a honey badger. Someone responded to the post saying, “Did you see the black mamba that lives at tent forty?” My blood ran cold; my heart started beating out of my chest at the thought. That huge, deadly, fast, aggressive snake LIVED right where I slept for two nights!! Several others confirmed that fact.

Would it keep me away should I get the opportunity to stay there again? No. Absolutely not. But I know I will – very cautiously – inspect every nook and cranny of the inside of the tent to make sure I was not sharing my bed or shower with this creature of death.

I may say I am not afraid of snakes, but an eight to ten-foot-long black mamba IS the exception!

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