This morning started as all the others. Breakfast at 7:00 and settled into the waterhole by 8:00. Dries wanted me to try a particular blind for Gemsbok and Zebra. It was going to be a long day (unless the cat hit) and I'd need some reading material. One of the books at the lodge was the Audubon Guide to Animals of Southern Africa. I figured it would be interesting to ID some of the lizards hanging out in the blind, as well as some of the many birds that frequent the waterhole.
The morning was cool and slow. A big herd of impala came in but they were nervous and would not water. Between creatures, I flipped through the book - reading about the various antelopes, lizards and snakes. I was quite interested in the section on poisonous snakes. I had always heard about tree snakes, vipers and mambas but had never seen any in my trips to Africa. Although I'm not afraid of snakes and will readily pick them up back home - not seeing a deadly snake here was just fine with me.
By mid morning I grew tired and laid down on the floor of the blind under the front shooting window. I didn't sleep - but rather drifted into a semi-comatose daze. By 10:30 AM I plopped back into the chair. Minutes clicked by as the African sun got higher and heated up my small blind. I grew relaxed and tired again, and was tempted to go lay down a second time. It was cooler there, and a knap would help pass the time. For whatever reason I stayed in that chair.
My first reaction was that someone was sliding a grayish-green rope through my front shooting window. But the sound of it plopping at my feet didn't sound like a rope. It took me 5 seconds to comprehend it. Then I probably said something like..."Holy s**t."
At my feet was a 10' black mamba.
I don't know if it's good that I had just read about the black mamba - or bad. An hour ago in the audubon guide I learned that he was the fastest snake on earth, carried a huge quantity of perhaps the most deadly venom on earth (both a Neurotoxin and a Cardiotoxin), and was considerably aggressive.
I quickly sized up the situation. The door was latched behind me. The snake had nowhere to go - neither did I.
I froze. With every cell in my body I stayed motionless. Inside, my pulse was racing. I watched as the sleek head, raised slightly above the ground (a classic mamba-hunting pose) headed for my chair. He came from my right and I lost sight of him as he approached my right shin. Shivers raced up and down my spine as I started to feel the gentle pressure of the snake's body going over my right foot, then left. The full thickness of his body was sliding across my ankles. His forward motion created a hissing sound which started out in front of me but then moved beneath my chair. The tail disappeared and I could no longer see any portion of the deadly snake.
That's when I was the most terrified.
I was certain the mamba would climb up my chair and slide across my back and shoulders. If that happened, there was no way I could stay motionless. My saving grace was that I kept convincing myself that this couldn't be a black mamba slithering across me. I must be mistaken. There were probably a dozen snakes in Africa that look just like the one I just read about in the field guide. After all, what were the odds?
Like a gift from heaven, the head of the snake appeared in my peripheral vision. He was done messing around behind me and now headed for the opposite corner of the blind. In megahertz I ran through my options:
In all honesty, my options sucked. I chose to make my move to get out of the blind - right then.
As the mamba's head reached the opposite corner of the blind, I very slowly reached behind me and felt for the hook holding the door against the cement wall of the blind. I gripped it quietly - still watching the snake. The hook popped between my fingers with a sharp metallic clank.
This alerted the mamba. He snapped his head to face me. He quickly began coiling in an offensive position. This was not good. In one smooth and lightning-fast motion I dove out the door.
Feeling safe, and probably a bit cocky, I went around to the front window and saw the snake - now in a defensive position near the door. This was good. I grabbed my video camera and recorded everything from this point on.
Dries was not planning on picking me up for hours. Not wanting to lose any hunting time, I figured that I would do what I could to push him out of my blind. Right now, he was between me and my radio so calling for help was out of the question.
I looked around for a stick. Behind the blind I found a 3' branch. I slowly lowered the branch with one hand, while I held the video camera with the other.
As the stick got close to the mamba, he struck it so fast that it freaked me out. But I was growing bolder and continued to prod him. Aggravated, he struck two more times. But I was determined to get him out of this blind. Aggravated, he slithered around the blind and climbed the wall 5' high. At first he kept trying to bury into the thatch, but eventually he slid through one of the video holes and out of the blind.
I was tempted to climb in the blind and get the radio. Good thing I didn't. Instead I turned the corner to watch him. I expected to see him moving away but instead the snake was coming directly at me. I jumped back as he turned and slid into the blind through a side window. I froze for a few moments then slowly peaked back in the doorway. I had no idea where he was and I didn't want to carelessly stick my head in there.
He had vanished.
I scanned every inch of that small blind with my video camera's viewfinder. There was no 10' snake anywhere. My better judgment told me to wait, and perhaps try to walk back to the lodge. But my 'Indiana Jones' told me to climb back in and get that radio. My smarter half never wins so I went back into the blind, grabbed the radio, then quickly climbed back out.
Dries came quickly after instructions over the radio to "stay out of the blind". He arrived with Jonas and Willem, two trackers - plus a shotgun loaded with buckshot. I explained the situation and showed Dries the video. His reaction bothered me. They were on edge. It became apparent that I may have underestimated the situation.
The trackers looked for the snake at the door while Dries looked through a window. They asked me if I had anything in my tripod bag? I said no; why? They said the bag was moving. They poked the bag and the snake came out. Dries yelled, "it's a mamba" and instructed us to get back. He blasted it with his shotgun.
Dries and the trackers were looking at me like I was a ghost. They shook their heads in disbelief. It was no longer apparent - it was certain. The situation I was in was grave - and I was lucky.
I don't think a world record leopard would have generated as much discussion back at the lodge that evening. I played the video and they watched in horror as I carelessly poked at the fastest and most deadly snake in Africa. Dries Sr. kept remarking how lucky I was to be alive. I guess ignorance is bliss. I knew the snake was lethal, but I had no idea how aggressive or fast it was. In hindsight I guess I probably didn't believe it was even a black mamba. I won't be poking african snakes again.
The good news is that I was OK, the snake was dead - and I'm going to have one heck of a mamba-backed selfbow. The bad news was that no leopard hit that day. I don't think my nerves could've handled it anyway.
A little hair of the dog...I climbed back into a new blind for the afternoon hunt. I can't honestly say that I was afraid of it happening again. But one thing's for sure; I won't be laying down in any more african blinds.