In an attempt to dispel some of the myths and fears surrounding snakes, The Dargle Conservancy invited Pat McKrill from Snake Country to visit three schools in the area yesterday. His morning began at Lion’s River Primary.
Initial reaction when he produced a plastic snake “made in china” was shrieks of horror, but Pat soon had his audience absolutely captivated.
He began by asking learners to guess the number of deaths caused annually in South Africa by HIV/AIDS, road accidents and cigarette smoking. Of course, the numbers were all huge. The audience was then startled to hear that on average only about 10 people die of snake bites every year in our country! So why are we so afraid that we feel the need to kill them?
After listening to the interesting facts about where snakes fit into our eco-system and asking questions, learners realised that snakes had real value and if treated with respect, were very unlikely to harm anyone. They are particularly useful in getting rid of rats and frogs, two other unwanted creatures in most homes.
When you come across a snake by surprise, Pat’s advice is simple. Stand still. Snakes can only see movement, so will probably think you are a tree if you don’t move and simply go on their way.
By the end of the talk, learners were clamouring for a chance to hold the snakes in their hands and to feel the smooth skin and the flicking tongue. Even educators who were frightened to begin with made the most of the opportunity. Principal, Busi Nondaba was astonished that she held a snake “I never thought I could do this” she said, adding “all the kids are talking about this, they are so excited and telling others they must not kill a snake if they see it on the road.”
Pat (accompanied by Nkanyiso Ndlela of MMAEP) moved on to Corrie Lynn Primary and Dargle Primary, both schools he has visited before as part of the Midlands Meander Association Education Project (MMAEP) environmental programme.
Here learners were much more relaxed and enjoyed fondling the pretty spotted green snake, little house snake and the dark Californian King snake.
Principal Frank Mvelase of Dargle School asked if snakes would chase you – Pat laughed and mimed running all the way to Durban with a snake hot on his heels! No, was the answer, they won’t, especially because they don’t get oxygen into their blood as quickly as humans do, so don’t have the stamina we have.
Bagcinile Mthembu in Grade 7 thanked Pat for visiting saying “Now we understand that when we see a snake we have to stand still.” Thenjiwe Ngcobo, Educator commented “Now learners understand that there is a reason for everything to exist.”
After lunch, farm staff were invited to meet Pat at the Lion’s River Club where he repeated his presentation to 50 enthralled men and women. Nkanyiso Ndlela provided Zulu commentary for those not fluent in English.Everyone were astonished to hear that snakes have no ears and cannot hear, so there is no point whispering or shouting at them. Pat suggested that giving a snake a name will ensure you never see it again!
Many people took photos with their phones, particularly when Pat released a splendid plump puffadder onto the grass in the middle of the group.
He reiterated that snakes are always trying to find a place to hide, by placing a box nearby into which the snake slithered with relief.
Nobuhle Sokhela commented after touching a snake “It’s unbelievable. I won’t ever scream when I see a snake again, I am not frightened now.” Nombuizelo Nokhoakhoa added “I thought it would feel wet, but it was smooth and dry, just like my skin.”
Pat demonstrated how to wrap a limb with a snake bite firmly, but NOT to apply a tourniquet which would cut off blood flow and result in gangrene. Of course, one should get to a hospital as soon as possible. Samson Phakathi of Endangered Wildlife Trust closed off by reminding everyone how important a healthy balanced environment is for our wellbeing.
Conservancy members and friends gathered in the early evening for a very entertaining presentation on “Getting to know the Neighbours”.
Pat reckons there are snakes all around us, even though we seldom see them. “I find it interesting how the questions are always the same – whether I am at a rural school or a corporate event. Across the board people have similar fears and lack of knowledge.” he said. A fascinating topic and a great speaker.
Contact Pat at email@example.com or 083 303 6958
Bravo Pat and well done – if only more kids could share in that amazing experience. Pat Olivier Padfield Manors Conservancy
Imagine and know how many snakes lives have been saved through Pat’s interactions!!! Wish every school in SA could have visit like this. THanks PAT!