encounter a snake

Here’s what to do when you encounter a snake in nature. Picture: SANParks.

What TO DO when you encounter a SNAKE on a trail

Spring has sprung and many of us love to be in nature this time of year. But so do reptiles. Here’s what to do when you encounter a snake.

encounter a snake

Here’s what to do when you encounter a snake in nature. Picture: SANParks.

Spring has sprung, and the weather is warming up. And if you haven’t already, you’re probably planning your first lovely hike back into nature after winter. The only problem is, all of nature’s reptiles feel exactly the same, and if you encounter a snake on a trail, you’ve got to act decisively.


encounter a snake
A Black Mamba. Picture: SANParks.

Let’s not forget that SANParks is offering a week’s free access to all its parks and nature reserves for National Parks Week from 16-24 September, so best you brush up on what to do if you encounter a snake out on those beautiful trails.

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This subject is particularly topical to this author right now, as just last week I went for a hike up the stunning Chapmans Peak trail in the Western Cape and came face-to-face with a Puff Adder.

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Needless to say, I froze and moved away as quickly and calmly as I could, and the rest of the hike was far more stressful. But I wondered if what I did was the best course of action when encountering a snake. So, with the help of the experts at Nature Reserve, I did some research …


encounter s snake
Puff Adders can blend into their surroundings quite easily. Picture: Cape Nature.

It turns out my natural instinct to freeze and move away calmly was spot on. Experts say when hiking in the bush, do not poke or provoke any snake you come across. The Puff Adder I encountered was clearly just getting some sun on an exposed part of the trail and didn’t want to be disturbed, just as much as I didn’t want to disturb it.

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Often, if you encounter a snake it may appear dead or sleeping, but some snakes like the Rinkhals do this specifically before they strike. Basically, the rule of thumb if you encounter a snake on a trail is do not approach it closely, especially to take a picture or video. If you were unsighted and stepped on it by accident or got very close, like I did, just move away calmly.


encounter a snake
Snake sunning itself. Picture: File/Armand Kok.

If you encounter a snake, first freeze, then gauge its reaction. Most times it will look for an escape route. If, for whatever reason, it’s cornered, it may become agitated, rear up and want to strike or spit venom at you. Back away calmly and slowly to show you are not a threat.

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If the snake rears up, like a Cobra, and forms a hood around its neck and head, this is an aggressive move and it’s lining up a strike. Pythons and Puff Adders move forwards in a straight line, will other snakes slither sideways. If you’re able to observe this, you’ll know how dangerous the snake may be.


Picture: File.

God forbid, if you didn’t move away in time or didn’t see it and were bitten, what should you do!? Well, firstly, at the start of the hiking trail, take note of the emergency numbers on the board. Put these into your cellphone so you can phone the relvenant park authority as soon as possible.

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Then, the best advice if you are bitten by a snake is to remain calm. Try not to panic and don’t rush off the trail. This will only speed up your metabolism and spread the snake’s poison faster. The shock of the bite is often worse than the venom.

So, there you have it, the best defence if you encounter a snake on a trail is to stay calm and don’t get bitten.