The Safari Experts
snake bites

Snake bites when travelling in Africa


Let us make something absolutely clear from the outset ... we have never even heard of a safari traveller in Africa dying from a snake bite. In fact even seeing a snake is a relatively rare occurrence. There are plenty of snakes in Africa but relatively few of them are venomous and almost all of them go out of their way to avoid contact with humans. Even the more dangerous ones only inject venom in around 50% of bites.

Even the notorious black mamba, which aggressively displays by rearing up several feet in the air, always prefers to retreat and will usually only attack when cornered. Nevertheless the speed with which the venom can kill has led it to be widely regarded as the most deadly snake in the world.

Perhaps the most dangerous snake is the puff adder, which often relies on its camouflage rather than retreating, meaning that it is possible to step on one. A bite is extremely dangerous and needs to be treated with care, but there is usually plenty of time to get the victim to a suitable medical facility.

Avoidance ...

One major misconception which people seem to have before travelling is that they will be more protected from snakes when staying in a safari lodge rather than a tented camp. Actually the converse is true, since a safari tent is completely sealed and sipped up, whereas a more heavily built lodge can have permeable thatched roofs. A heavier structure is also more likely to be cooler during the day and warmer at night, making it useful for thermo-regulation in reptiles, whereas the temperature in a safari tent tends to have less of a time lag.

There are some very basic precautions that you can take to protect yourselves from snakes ...

1. Wear proper walking boots and thick pants/trousers
2. Look where you are going
3. Avoid thick bush and long grass
4. Make noise as you go along
5. Follow the advice of guides and locals
6. Stay in a properly sealed tent rather than a conventionally built room
7. Do not leave room windows and doors open

Action ...

1. Try to identify the snake
2. Stay calm, remember it is unlikely that you have been injected with venom
3. Seek expert assistance asap
4. Apply a splint to reduce movement in the limb
5. Keep the bitten limb below heart level to slow spread of venom
6. If you have a bandage then bind the wound tightly, but release every half hour
7. Evacuate asap to hospital with anti-venom
8. Be sure to have evidence of insurance or means of paying for evacuation and treatment

DO NOT ... take aspirin, but paracetamol is ok
DO NOT ... cut or suck the wound
DO NOT ... apply ice packs
DO NOT ... apply potassium permanganate
DO NOT ... pick up even a decapitated snake head as it may still be able to bite

Read more about snake bites in Wikipedia.

Incidents ...

There was one instance of a British man dying of a bite in 2011 in South Africa, but he was undergoing safari guide training and was actually trying to catch the snake in question.

13 December 2011 : Black mamba killed Wing student in South Africa : refer BBC News.

Disclaimer : Please note that all of the information on this page and elsewhere in the health section of our website is provided for information only. We suggest that you always refer to a health professional when seeking medical advice.
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