When you see a snake while hiking, here’s what to do

When you see a snake while hiking, here’s what to do

Now that spring has arrived, the temperature is rising. And you’re probably already thinking about your first wonderful hike of the year now that winter is finally over. The only catch is that all snakes and other reptiles in nature feel the same, so you’ll need to take swift action if you come across one on the trail.


This is a Black Mamba. Photograph by SANParks.

Keep in mind that from September 16-24, National Parks Week, all SANParks parks and nature reserves will be free of charge, so now is a good time to review what to do if you encounter a snake while hiking.

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This is a topic close to the author’s heart because he or she just encountered a Puff Adder while hiking the beautiful Chapmans Peak trail in the Western Cape.

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The rest of the hike was obviously more stressful since I froze and then calmly retreated. But I questioned whether or not that was the wisest move to make when confronted by a snake. So I did some investigating with the aid of the professionals at Nature Reserve…

Puff adders have a remarkable ability to conceal themselves. Cape Nature as a still image.

My gut reaction to stop moving and freeze was exactly what I needed to do. Experts advise that hikers not poke or provoke any snakes they encounter in the wild. It was obvious that the Puff Adder I came across was just basking in the sun on an open section of the route, and it didn’t want to be bothered any more than I wanted to.

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Snakes often give the impression that they are dead or asleep before they strike, however certain species, like the Rinkhals, do this on purpose. If you see a snake while hiking, the general rule is that you shouldn’t get too close, especially if you want to take a picture or video of it. If you, like me, were unable to see it and accidentally walked on it or came extremely close to it, simply back away.
Take note of the snake.

Sunbathing snake. Source: Image File/Armand Kok.

Stop moving and observe the snake’s behavior if you come across one. In most cases, it will try to find a way out. If it feels threatened, like it’s being cornered, it may become aggressive and try to strike or spit its poison at you. To demonstrate that you pose no danger, step back gently and calmly.
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When a snake assumes the Cobra-like defensive posture of rearing up and forming a hood over its head and neck, it is preparing to strike. While certain snakes, like pythons and puff adders, travel straight ahead, others crawl. Knowing the snake’s potential hazard level depends on your ability to see this.

Data image.

If you didn’t get out of the path in time or didn’t notice it, and it bit you, what would you do!? First things first, when you get to the trailhead, make a mental note of the phone numbers posted there in case of an emergency. Save them to your phone so you can contact the park rangers in the relvenant park right away.
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If you are bitten by a snake, the best thing to do is to be as quiet as possible. Do your best to keep your cool and stay on the trail. Your metabolism will speed up, and the snake’s venom will spread more quickly as a result. A bite’s first shock can be more dangerous than the poison itself.
So, there you have it: keep your cool and don’t get bitten if you run into a snake on the trail.

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