Game Ranger Training:

Working toward a stress-free co-existence with snakes.

I’d passed through immigration control at Harare Airport, a happy smiling Zimbabwean customs official ceremoniously beat my passport to a pulp with her rubber stamp and I headed for the ‘nothing to declare’ exit. Seeing as I had nothing to declare, another smiling official asked to view the contents of my mummified suitcase. After exchanging pleasantries and hacking at the shrinkwrap with a pair of pre-war scissors, he finally parted the cable-tied zips and threw open my case with the zeal of a magician revealing his secret! Taraaaa!! There, coiled atop my neatly packed clothes, were two very realistic looking rubber snakes for use in the training sessions at my destination. I won’t bore you with the rest of the story; I think Schuster has already covered that in one of his movies.

Onward to my destination, the Malilangwe Private Game Reserve, adjacent to Gonarezhou, a 6 hour trip south east through the old country now devoid of crops and seemingly, any form of wildlife. As with earlier visits, I had asked about having some live ‘stock’ to work with on arrival, but as most game reserves see snakes as being bottom of their food chain, they could only recall having seen one a while back. Nevertheless, on the first morning, with a new perspective on looking for things other than the bigger animals, we found a juvenile python sleeping off a nest raid up in the trees, and later that day after locating spoor across the road, we found a large snouted cobra that was scouring the sandstone hills for a meal and carefully followed it within touching distance for about 30 metres before it became aware of our presence and headed for the hills. The trainees, rangers and game scouts, all had their first real look at the behaviour of an undisturbed snake going about its daily routine – an amazing experience for all, helping to wipe away some of the inbred prejudice most of us harbour for things we don’t understand. On the 5 day course, we managed to collect and observe a variety of interesting snakes ranging from those mentioned, through to black mamba, reticulated centipede eater, black file snake, puff adder, Mozambique spitter and the ubiquitous – for that area – stripe bellied sand snake. Not bad for a place where they don’t see snakes! During the course, whilst honing our locating and handling techniques, we investigated many of the commonly held beliefs about snakes, building up a knowledge base that can be used by the rangers and scouts to ultimately enhance the game-viewing experience of others. At the end of the course, the team put on a very professional and highly entertaining demonstration for the office wallahs and invited guests, showcasing their new skills and introducing them to some of our less lethal captives which were then released back into the bush. Ndatenda kwaizo.


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