Snakes on a Plain

Roy Herold
Mon, 04 Nov 2013 18:53:16 PST
The talk about snakes reminds me of my visit to Kirstenbosch Botanic 
Garden in Cape Town, back in 2008. As I was talking to Ernst Van 
Jaarsveld in his office, his phone rang. (He's the curator of their 
marvelous conservatory, fantastic botanist and plant explorer, etc, etc.)

He chatted with the caller briefly, hung up the phone, and said to me 
"Hurry, the game is afoot!" or some Sherlockian words to that effect. We 
ran out to his car (actually his daughter's, which turned out to have no 
brakes or transmission), and we zoomed/rattled up the hill towards the 

On the way, he described how one of the gardeners had found a snake, and 
since he was the resident snake catcher of Kirstenbosch, he got the 
call. Before we got into the car, he grabbed a little wooden box with a 
hole in the side--a tortoise box that would have to make do for the snake.

As an aside, he said it was probably a cape cobra, the most poisonous 
snake in South Africa, right up there with the black mamba.

We screeched/slid to a halt alongside a fellow who was waving his garden 
hoe, jumped out, and found that it was indeed a cape cobra, a bit over 
two meters long.

After a bit of finagling, Ernst was finally able to get it into the 
tortoise box by dangling it from the hoe and letting it crawl in. 
Unfortunately, he had forgotten the cover for the box and the hole was 
wide open, with the cobra peering out. He scrabbled around in the back 
of the car, until he found an old newspaper--a perfect cover for the box!

He then handed the snake in the box and the newspaper to me, and said 
"Here, hold this while we drive a bit and find a place to release the 
cobra. DO NOT let go of the newspaper!"

So there we went, bouncing up Table Mountain, with me holding the cobra 
in my lap, protected by a few pages of last week's Cape Times newspaper. 
We found a good place to stop, got out, and put the box by the side of 
the track. The cobra wasn't about to come out, so we left it there to 
exit in a leisurely manner.

On the way back to the conservatory, Ernst told me about another call he 
had received from a resident nearby to Kirstenbosch. Apparently a snake 
had gotten into this homeowner's bird cage, and had eaten all of the 
birds. Unfortunately, the snake was now too fat to fit through the bars 
  of cage, was stuck there, and had to be 'rescued'...

Ernst did give me some Whiteheadia seeds before I left, so this story 
really is bulb related. Aren't snakes a lot more exciting than 
zephyranthes, all things considered?

NW of Boston, first hard freeze last night, with the snakes starting 
their long winter's nap.

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