Revisiting the Ian Miller incident

28 Sep 2009 12:16 #681 by
This thread discusses the Content article: Revisiting the Ian Miller incident

It is a common belief that there are only three types of dangerous snakes in the Berg, the Puff Adder, Berg Adder and Rinkhals. A couple of years ago, while hiking in the Highmoor area, I came across a dusty straw-coloured snake about 1 metre in length. Not recognising it as anything dangerous, I poked with my walking pole in the grass next to it, where-upon it stood up, formed a hood, hissed loudly and then struck at the pole! Needless to say, I got the message and backed off rapidly.

A few months later, while attending a snake talk by Mark Edmonds from Underberg, he mentioned that he had encountered Cape Cobras in the Berg. I think I turned quite pale! Had I been aware of this during the encounter, I would instantly have recognised it for what it was! The Cape Cobra is probably even deadlier than the Rinkhals; it certainly needs less encouragement to bite!

Mark is an Honorary Officer and a part-time snake catcher who removes venomous snakes from residential properties in the Underberg area. You can contact him on 072-2375422.

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28 Sep 2009 17:41 #682 by intrepid
Thanks for passing that on Dave! Certainly something to be aware of. I've just Googled it to familiarise myself with what they look like - can recommend everyone do the same.

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.

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08 Oct 2009 12:34 #687 by fatshark
What altitude was the Cape Cobra?

Supposedly the Puffies and Rinkhals don't venture up much past 2000m. I've only ever seen Berg Adders above that.

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08 Oct 2009 23:45 #689 by ClimbyKel
good to be aware of these things...thanks for the info!

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09 Oct 2009 07:47 #690 by diverian
I will be keeping a good lookout for all snakes

Ian Miller

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10 Oct 2009 05:58 #692 by Oneye
this incident was long ago, and i have no data (medical reports, autopsy results), and i am also no expert, just opinionated!

but consider this scenario. ian muller was not bitten at all, or bitten by a harmless animal, or bitten by a snake that did not inject its venom, and the antivenin killed him. this is a distinct possibility.

even if he had been bitten, antivenin is snake specific, and the story admits that the snake was never identified. i was taught, if bitten, you must kill the snake, and bring it to the hospital. i was also taught that no serum should be injected until signs of poisoning are evident, except for the adder family, in which the window is short, perhaps as short as 10 minutes.

yes there are poisonous snakes in the wild, and i have seen plenty, even nearly stepped on a puff adder, who reared up, hissed twice, and let me go. snakes are hardly the biggest danger in the berg, or anywhere. lightning is far more likely to kill you, and hypothermia even more likely than that, and i am sure my list is very lacking, and of course stupidity is probably the greatest danger of all (i'm ribbing myself here!).

mr. miller's phobia meant he carried antivenin - i never do. the trouble with antivenin is that it is a powerful toxic drug. i know i do not have the expertise to administer it and monitor the effects. so i take the calculated risk that snakes will leave me alone, as they are want to do. so far so good!

last, snakes and other wild creatures add to my enjoyment of the berg. i certainly love seeing snakes. they get the heart and mind a-fluttering.

keep a good lookout for all snakes, then jump for joy (or to get out the way) when you see 'em!

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12 Oct 2009 16:13 #694 by fatshark
That's a very interesting scenario. I've heard that antivenin can in some cases cause severe anaphylactic shock. Add to that the shock that Ian Muller, with his phobia of snakes, was very likely experiencing, you have a real possibility of fatal consequences without any venom!

I've always found snakes to be pretty tolerant. OK, that's not to assume that they will always be so, taking liberties with any wild animal is asking for trouble (remember Steve Irwin). But given a bit of space, every snake I've ever encountered has gotten out of my way as fast as his dusty belly could move him - that includes a snouted cobra, a Mozambique spitting cobra (after a brief rear-up and hiss), boomslangs, and numerous puffies and berg adders. And those are the ones that stuck around long enough to be identified - who knows how many rustles in the grass were swiftly-retreating serpents. Likely a good few.

Consider what the nice thick heavy Hi-tecs of your average Berg hiker stomping along a path would do to a snake. That would be ANY snake, not just a little one. Even the big ones would get hurt, crippled, maybe even die. Small wonder snakes object to sharing a path with my size 12s, and seem to clear off as soon as they pick up the first vibrations of my approaching bulk. The exceptions are usually slowpoke puffies that sit tight and rely on their camouflage. But every puffie I've ever seen has gone to great lengths to reveal himself when I've gotten closer - a hollow hiss, writhing their coils, even a couple of mock-strikes - showing me that he's there so that I don't stand on him. Seems BB has had similar experiences. When I've backed away, so has the snake, usually with great urgency.

Biting is a last resort of a desperate animal - the snake feels cornered, without any means of escape, so tries to defend itself from the approaching danger. I'm told that in biting something far larger than a prey item, the snake risks losing a fang, or being damaged by a defensive kick or stamp. They will try to retreat, or get you to retreat, before they take that risk.

Must say I share BB's enjoyment of encountering snakes. Spotting a Berg Adder or puffie is always a highlight (they are slower so they provide the best sightings), and we try to settle down well out of potential strike range to admire their striking markings and get some pics. The pics part is a lot harder than it sounds, because the last thing the snake wants is to hang about posing, and a puffie is not the most suitable subject for macro photography :blink:.

Generic advice for anyone partial to strolling around the wild and lonely places (that's all of us, then) to reduce the already small risk of snakebite even further:
- wear boots or closed shoes
- wear knee-length gaiters (or long trousers) for added insurance - it may not stop a puffie's fangs completely, but it will stop a lot of venom,
- don't get too carried away by the magnificent scenery - keep a careful eye on the path ahead (esp September - March)
- check what's on the other side before you hop over a rock or log,
- use a stick to probe vegetation ahead if you are bush-whacking,
- avoid walking around in the dark,
- give the snakes you do see a wide berth. (alive and dead - rinkhals play dead as a defence...)

Anyone else got any advice to share? Or snake stories?

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13 Oct 2009 04:51 #698 by intrepid
Good advice and interesting sceanarios have bee presented! Certainly it is good to maintain perspective on snake bites, in that they are rare and snakes would much rather avoid you than bite you.

I am often asked about snakes in the Berg and if sleeping in caves is ever a problem in this regard. The truth is, I can't remember when last I saw a Puffie in the Berg, and I've only ever seen a dead Rinkhals (which as far as I could tell, wasn't feigning :) ). Berg Adders, Skaapstekers (harmless) and some other weird variaties I do encounter more frequently, but my own lack of good photos of these indicates that the encounters are generally short-lived.

The use of anti-venom certainly should be done carefully, and training in proper use I think is critical (I don't carry any). I do know someone personally that was bitten by a Puffie in the Berg, and the last incident was in February this year. In both cases, swift evacuation to get medical treatment was the key. Cell phones and knowing who to call (either the mountain rescue guys, or the relevant KZN Wildlife office) are very important.

To add to the generic advice:
- When scrambling up steep slopes (particularly when climbing peaks or getting up passes without trails) take care where you place your hands and what you grab, since Berg Adder bites to the hand or wrist is something that does occur.
- Take care when going to the toilet at night, obviously cause its dark, but also cause its tempting to get it over with quickly and not put shoes on. Have heard of a Night Adder bite which happened near a cave this way.

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.

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15 Oct 2009 11:17 #701 by domsmooth
I would like to suggest getting some of Fatsharks pics on the site for others to know what the difference is or what kind of snake they are dealing with should they come across them while out there. Always useful to know that the snake you are looking at is a skaapsteker and harmless than a rinkhals which can cause a problem, just by way of example.

Lets all help maintain the values for which the Berg was proclaimed a World Heritage Site

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19 Oct 2009 15:28 #705 by fatshark
Will see what I can find, domsmooth...

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