My friend Louis (lover of SNAKES!!) wants to know the story behind this photograph. Okay Louis, this is just for you, crazy person that you are.
But first, for those who are unfamiliar with black mambas, here’s a little background information:
Black mambas (Dendroaspis polytepsis) are the longest venomous snakes in Africa, measuring up to 14 ½ feet. Mambas are not black – they’re more olive or greenish gray, with a narrow, elongated head the shape of a coffin. It’s the inside of their mouths that are black – hence the name. Mambas are also extremely aggressive and may actively attack without provocation. I use the adverb “actively” with reason – a mamba can strike in all directions, even though a third of its body is raised above the ground, and it can chase you in that upright position at speeds up to 20 mph. If you are bitten, your death will occur within 20-60 minutes. An anti-venom for mamba bites exists, but it must be administered immediately, requiring 10-20 vials of solution. But if you are struck in the face or neck (quite likely, since the head of the mamba chasing you is 4 feet off the ground), you will die in ten minutes. That black mouth will be the last thing you see.
On that cheery note, on with the story:
In the Moremi Game Reserve, east of the Okavango Delta, is an elevated platform overlooking a large hippo pool in a bend of the Khwai River. Six of us, our guide OT (“just like Overtime!”) arrive in our Land Rover.
“What’s that?” I point.
It’s a large piece of stiff white paper taped with duct tape to a tree. We climb out, read it, and immediately start swiveling our heads, trying to look in all directions at once.
“Anyone want to go look?” OT laughs.
The toilet, roughly the size of those cartoon outhouses with the crescent moons carved in their doors, is a cinder block building with a tin roof. It’s about fifty feet from our Land Rover. The painted green door on the toilet is ajar.
Certainly I’m not tempted to look inside. After all, the second message was written just three days before our arrival by someone a lot more curious than I am about deadly snakes. The mamba is most likely still in there. Who wants to reconfirm a reconfirmation? Mambas are territorial; they will always return to their lairs, although that’s usually in an abandoned termite mounds or a hollow tree, rarely, I’d bet extremely rarely, in a toilet. A mamba is diurnal, active both night and day. It could be sleeping in there. Or not.
In my opinion, I’m already standing way too close to that toilet. Trying to look both at the toilet and at everything else, I walk slowly backwards. Mambas don’t like sudden movements.
Besides, I firmly believe, even though I haven’t seen it, that this toilet is not a Western ceramic throne, but a mere hole in the cement. I’ve had enough experience with toilets-in-the-middle-of-nowhere to also believe that the area around the hole is likely none-too-clean. That bush over there looks a better. A few minutes later, after careful reconnoitering and quickly taking care of business, I can confirm that no mambas are lurking around it.
As I climb the steps to the viewing platform I look for mambas wrapped around posts. On the creaky platform I look for mamba’s hidden in corners, or nestled into the thatch of the roof. I look for mambas slithering across the branches of the trees that lean dangerously close to the rails. A rustling noise among the branches spikes my heart rate to a gazillion, but it calms when I see it’s only a Burchell’s glossy starling, squawking for handouts.
The view from the platform is marvelous. A massive cloud hangs over the hippo pool and puffs of other clouds reflect in the tranquil water. A dozen hippos rise and sink, burbling like submerged tubas. Tracks in the grass are hippo paths, where the hippos come out of the pool at night to feed, foraging as far as three miles for sweet young shoots.
At the bottom of the platform a dozen water monitors, some six-feet long, slither into positions that defend his or her portion of the bank, using the hippo paths as small highways. The smaller monitors end up with the worst spots, constantly harassed in slow-motion chases by the larger lizards. As I watch their typical reptile behavior, I think it’s lucky for us that the age of dinosaurs ended a long time ago.
On the far side of the river, specks in the distance, a huge herd of elephants splashes along the edge of a reed bed. After I check for mambas, I lean on the rail of the platform to steady my camera. I use the digital zoom to take a picture, but it’s an extremely low-pixelated shot. The elephants are in constant motion, appearing and disappearing in the reeds, so the photo turns out fairly blurry, but at least I have proof that those specks were really elephants.
On the way down from the platform I look for mambas wrapped around support posts, coiled under steps, and hidden in the framework of the flooring. I scan for slithery movements in the brush and wait for someone else to climb in the Land Rover before I do. I doubt the mamba has exchanged one lair for another, but still, you never know . . .
So, Louis, the viewing platform has its own GPS coordinates. If YOU want to look at that mamba and reconfirm one more time that it’s really there, I can tell you exactly where to go!
13 thoughts on “Black Mamba in Toilet!”
Wow! Scary! I would be glad to take their word for it.
Yes, fear is sometimes manifested in what you DON’T see.
I love your description of this search for the Black Mamba. Good of the last visitor to the long drop to leave a warning. My husband loves snakes too. In fact, his main reason for leaving the UK for Africa was to have access to more of them. We (or rather I,) have had many a scary moment while he pursues them.
There must be a lot of readers out there like your husband. It’s the most popular post on my blog. The part I liked was that someone (like your husband) RECONFIRMED the snake was still in there. Thank heavens for handy bushes.
Wow! Scary! I had a friend who was staying in Thailand, and she never went to the outhouse at night, because their was a King Cobra living under the porch that became active at night. You are a great storyteller, Cheryl.
Thanks for the wonderful comments!
Yikes! I don’t want to be anywhere near a black mamba!
Thanks for reading it Fergiemoto – this was as close as I’ve ever been to seeing a snake in all the times I’ve been to Africa, and it was too close!
Mambas shambas, who knows where all they slither 🙂 That ssssss…said, thanks for yet another fabulously entertaining read. I also enjoyed the ssssso-called “good-natured banter” between you and Louis. With love ~
Ooh er! I’m extremely happy that black mambas do not occur in my area! They are the only snake I am truly afraid of. Puffy’s and Boomslangs I have great respect and admiration for, even the Rinkhals, which we do have occassionally visiting. I think you are awfully brave to have ventured out of the Landy at all!
Great post. 😉
No, it is YOU who are brave. We have no venomous snakes at all where I live, just garter snakes, happily munching the wee pests of my garden. I grew up with rattlesnakes around, a venomous snake which kindly rattles its tail when disturbed and lets you know exactly where it is. I think, though, if everyone lived with venomous snakes, it would make us all a lot more aware of our surroundings! Thanks for reading my posts!
Well Miss Big Time African Adventurer—I really enjoyed this posting finally. I know I have been chomping at your heels about this experience and the details surrounding it. However, I am still quite disappointed in the fact that you did not venture a bit further to explore the possibility of that mamba taking up “residence” in the toilet facility of Doug and Sandi Groves’ Okavango Delta camp.
When next you venture to Africa, I expect to see many photographs of snakes from you—up close! :)=====
Thanks for providing me with some entertainment today!
In your dreams, Louis. I expect YOU to take many snake photos on YOUR next trip to Africa. BTW, the toilet was far, far away from the longdrops at Doug and Sandi’s camp – this “adventure” happened while I was on mobile safari in the Moremi Game Reserve. Glad I provided you with some entertainment. I often affect people that way . . .