Snakes and rabies

6 12 2012

In the 7 years that I have been in this house  I have only ever seen a live snake in the garden once and that was a very small boomslang (a timid but venomous tree snake) that did not wait around to be examined. So at lunch time when my domestic servant pointed out a largish charcoal-coloured snake in the rockery I was intrigued. My first priority was to get Kharma out of the way as I had no intention of finding out if she was snake-savvy or not. Dogs often are snake aware and Gary, whose farm I visited last weekend, has a ridgeback that is adept at killing snakes. My mother had a Jack Russell that thought it was a snake killer but on two encounters with cobras came off second best with venom in its eyes. My mother washed the dog’s eyes with water and gave it antibiotic eye drops and it recovered just fine. Cassie, my first dog (see Canine Chronicles on the right) was bitten on her face by what could only have been a puff-adder when I was living in the Chinhoyi area. After a couple of hours she looked more like a Shar Pei than a labrador but she recovered fine after I took her to a helpful farmer who gave her a big shot of penicillin (all the vets in the area were at a party). The next day she had cortisone injected into the bite area and after 5 days I couldn’t tell she’d been bitten. She lived another 13 glorious years without incident.

I told Kharma to get inside the house. She thought she was being scolded and sulked off down the verandah. I asked her nicely and she obeyed. I called the farm manager who said he didn’t have a shotgun handy but would come and have a look. I phoned Dave who knows about snakes but he didn’t answer. Gary seemed to think it could be a cobra or a black mamba but I was almost, but not quite, certain the latter don’t occur around here. The difference is important; cobras are not particularly quick or aggressive and mambas are both quick and aggressive. A bite from either can be fatal.

I caught a cobra by the tail once but I did have a major advantage on it. It was on a smooth concrete floor in a flower packhouse and couldn’t get any grip. I wasn’t sure what it was but knew that very few snakes can climb up their tail so just picked it up by the tail and put it in a fertilizer bag. I do know people who will catch black mamabas but they are fleet of foot and quick of reflex which I am most certainly not.

The farm manager arrived and was none-the-wiser as to what snake it was (it was uncooperatively hiding its head behind a rock). Some more farm workers arrived and looked dubiously  at the snake and one went off to find a stick with which to dispatch it. I offered to go and get my shotgun which is kept at work as required by the licence. Dave phoned back as I got to the pickup and said it was almost certainly an Egyptian/snouted cobra. I was called back to the front of the house and the snake had been killed; it was a cobra. Not a big one and I felt a bit sad that it had come to this. They have been around a lot longer than us so have a right to be here but I could not risk Kharma being bitten.

Kharma of course did not understand what all the fuss was about but was ecstatic to be let out and go for a drive in the pickup. She was less than ecstatic to arrive at the vet for her annual injections and rabies booster. Rabies vaccines are not normally required to be administered annually but while at Gary’s last weekend he recounted the recent incident he’d experienced with a rabid horse. Ignorant of the symptoms he’d initially thought it might be the equine equivalent of biliary, a blood parasite that in dogs is frequently fatal. It was only when the horse started attacking his dogs that he realized it was likely rabies. They have had a number of incidents this year with rabid stray dogs and one of his cows caught the virus and had to be destroyed. The carcase was buried in an old alluvial gold mining pit near the Hunyani River and promptly dug up by locals and eaten! I haven’t seen any rabid dogs around here but the vet told me that there have been a few on the north-east of town so we thought it prudent to keep Kharma up to date.

Snakes, by the way, don’t get rabies.

A weekend away

3 12 2012

We sat by on the verandah of the somewhat dilapidated lodge on the Hunyani Hills and surveyed the countryside with binoculars. There was not much farming to be seen so Gary and Jo told me stories of previous land issues between the former white owners of the farmland below us. They were often over access and use of water – a perennial problem in Zimbabwe.

My first job after returning from my overseas backpacker stint had been in this area of  Chinhoyi, a 1.5h drive north-west of Harare on the Kariba road. It was not a happy work experience and I left when my mother became terminally ill but I did make some good friends, Gary and Jo amongst them. I love the bush there and have great memories of exploring the area, meeting the local wildlife and happy hours with my first two dogs who originated from local breeders. Kim was my first Rhodesian Ridgeback whom I got from Gary and Jo and after her came Tina and Jenni (see Dog Chronicles page). Nearly every weekend I went riding with Jo and often one of her young daughters all of whom were keen polo players. Gary represented the country at polo for many years and there are still ponies at the farm though he has retired from active playing. There were always people coming and going and the house was a vibrant, welcoming place for me – away from the stresses of a job going badly. Today it is a sad shell of its former self. The children have grown up and left (though are still in the area). There are few carpets and decorations and the garden has fallen into disrepair. The floor tiles have been mostly removed. It is now just a house, no longer a home.

Gary has lost some two-thirds of the farm to so-called A2 farmers – i.e. semi-small scale farmers who do at most little (one has done nothing for the past 10 years). He mostly co-exists and does what farming he can but a new arrival is making his life extremely difficult and Gary says he is really after his house which is why, I presume, it has been allowed to fall into disrepair. Still, it was a good break and nice to reconnect with old friends. Kharma fitted in easily too.

I spotted these 2 signs advertising worms for sale on the road near the small town of Banket (20km from Chinhoyi) en route to a popular fishing spot. Marketing skills are apparent by their absence! I hope.

Something of a marketing blunder. I hope.

50m further down the road. Not really sure what this means.

50m further down the road. Not really sure what this means.