Memories of Africa


This non-venomous black racer was in my parents-in-law’s back yard, he was about 1.5 metres long and in no hurry to get away.  He glided across the lawn and up onto a pile of bricks, surveying his surroundings for his dinner (mice, frogs, toads, and anything they can overpower).

This little guy allowed me to get pretty close, and was watching me attempt to sneak closer with my son, while holding a camera and teaching my boy about snakes.

Many moons ago when I was in my early 20s I actually managed a crocodile and snake park in Livingston in Zambia called Gwembe Reptile Park. We had around 40 crocs and an array of snakes, including two huge black mambas, each about nine to 10 feet long. These snakes are known in Africa as the two-step snake because after you have been bitten, you take two steps and die.

One of my jobs at Gwembe was to collect dead day-old chicks from the day-old chick sellers, and feed the snakes (the local children also used to bring by live frogs, toads, rats, and mice as well, for a small fee). The only problem with feeding the more venomous snakes was that we didn’t really have any safety gloves, or any safety equipment at all.

So, as a master of improvisation, I used BBQ tongs to grab the dead chicks, held the tongs firmly in my right hand, used my left to slide the latch off the hatch at the back of the mamba cage, and tossed the chicks in with the tongs (while hoping not to miss, or get the little bodies jammed in the door – so the snakes would slither further out to get them).

After a while though, the snakes got wise to this, and faced the hatch every time they heard someone behind there. Not wanting to be killed, I got another staff member to stand in front of the glass and tap it, trying to keep their attention long enough for me to toss in their dinner.

This sometimes worked, and sometimes didn’t. If it didn’t you had to feed them anyway and just keep your fingers crossed they didn’t mistake your hand for dinner.

Feeding these guys was an adrenaline-fueled sport.

The place was owned by the infamous Joe Brooks, one of the last of the original African hunters you hear about. He also was part of the rescue crews that captured and relocated stranded animals during the flooding of Kariba Dam (one of the largest man-made lakes in the world – which borders my home country of Zimbabwe, and Zambia).

I helped him edit his biography called Siatwinda – which is available on Amazon here. Sadly he passed on a few years ago, but I believe Gwembe is still running.

Well, that was a trip down memory lane!

Until next time.