Eye To Eye With A Big Mamba

During 1995 we were on our annual week long survival -hunting excursion- mainly for warthog in the Limpopo Bushveld of South Africa.

For guys like us these 'primitive living' hunts are the best hunts, even better than normal day-hunts for Kudu, Impala, Blesbuck etc. out of a luxurious lodge! Now, as an older hunter, I still like to climb trees for a better look-out point, so when I saw this huge Baobab tree, over 100 meters from natural water, I just had to go for it!

To my surprise somebody else had long ago tried to build a tree house in it. Even better! The old wooden 'ladder' up to the first branches did not look safe anymore, so I decided to fasten my kit with a 30m ski-rope in my survival bag and pull everything up once I'm at the fork of the first branches.

Once there in the fork, the next climb up with a backpack and rifle to the floor of the 'tree house' becomes... let's just say 'difficult'.

Let me tell you, Baobab tree branches are smooth, and army boots are not really meant to be used as tree climbers! Exhausted, I carefully let the floor of the tree house tak my weight. So far so good!

Taking my binoculars, I started glassing the Bushveld below me. What a beautiful sight to see the lush green Bushveld and to hear the melodious twitter of the birds in the surrounding tree tops. It was such a peaceful moment of contentment, bliss and 'one-ness' with nature, that life couldn't be any better!

After, I don't know, about 2-3 minutes of total absorption to the surroundings beneath me, I suddenly become aware of a movement to the right of my head in the tree house.

Now just imagine this picture for yourself, when I innocently turned my head, to find this HUGE 3M [+10 ft.] coiled Black Mamba at about an arm's length from my face, head raised and looking with menace straight into my eyes, with what looked like a death grin below small unblinking pitch black beady eyes!

To say that I was nearly frightened out of my wits at that moment is a huge understatement of such a totally unexpected confrontation/situation! I'm sure that when my heart started beating again after a couple of seconds; it cleared out all the cholesterol from my arteries at once!

Now look. I am also a conservationist, the same as all real hunters, but at moments like these, maybe 40m up in a tree, confronted by a disagreeable and arguably the most venomous snake in Africa, if not the whole world, whose personal space and territory has just been rudely invaded by an alien to him, you don't think about conservation at times like this my friend, only about survival!

To make a long story short I shot it without aiming... at very close range! Needless to say, that afterwards, I did not go hunting for warthog for the rest of that day!

Even today, years after this episode, when I look at the photos again, I still get the shivers when I think back at that close shave and what could have been. It was literally more thn 30 km from the nearest people and 100's of km from the nearest decent hospital!

If untreated, it's neuro-and cardio toxin is 100% fatal inside of 20 minutes! I still go survival hunting, but now treat all Baobab trees with a healthy dose of respect for more reasons than just providing me with nearly all I need for survival in the bush. [Food, tea, rope, shade, shelter, sometimes water etc.]

What is the moral of the story? Well, there are a few lessons to be learned from my near fatal experience, and you can decide for yourself what you would have done if you were me that eventful morning. With the luxury of hind sight, I fully agree that I've made a couple of blunders that as an experienced hunter/camper I should never have made in the first place. I also mourn the death of one of the old kings of the bush, at the apex of his food chain in the ecosystem, [3m =+_ 15 yr.old---a really big one can be 4.5m -14ft. and up to 20 yrs,old]

I sometimes I think I should have taken a chance and let him live. Then I again relive those hectic and nightmarish seconds in an old tree house, and think that given the circumstances, I have made the right decision.
What do you think?

Author: Willem Pretorius

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