Wildlife Classics: A Venomous Snake


by J.H. Patterson

We were sitting after dark under the verandah of my hut. I wanted something from my tent, and sent Meeanh, my Indian chaukidar, to fetch it. He was going off in the dark to do so, when I called him back and told him to take a lantern for fear of snakes. This he did, and as soon as he got to the door of the tent, which was only a dozen yards off, he called out frantically, "Are, Sahib, burra sanp hai!" ("Oh, Master, there is a big snake here!")

"Where?" I shouted.

"Here by the bed," he cried, "Bring the gun, quickly."

I seized the shot-gun, which I always kept handy, and rushed to the tent, where, by the light of the lantern, I saw a great red snake, about seven feet long, gazing at me from the side of my camp-bed. I instantly fired at him, cutting him clean in half with the shot; the tail part remained where it was, but the head half quickly wriggled off and disappeared in the gloom of the tent. The trail of blood, however, enabled us to track it, and we eventually found the snake, still full of fight, under the edge of the ground-sheet. He made a last vicious dart at one of the men who had run up, but was quickly given the happy despatch by a blow on the head. Rawson now picked it up and brought it to the light. He then put his foot on the back of its head and with a stick forced open the jaws, when suddenly we saw two perfectly clear jets of poison spurt out from the fangs. An Indian baboo (clerk), who happened to be standing near, got the full benefit of this, and the poor man was so panic-stricken that in a second he had torn off every atom of his clothing. We were very much amused at this, as of course we knew that although the poison was exceedingly venomous, it could do no harm unless it penetrated a cut or open wound in the flesh. I never found out the name of this snake, which, as I have said, was of a dark brick-red colour all over; and I only saw one other of the same kind all the time I was in East Africa. I came upon it suddenly one day when out shooting. It was evidently much startled, and stood erect, hissing venomously; but I also was so much taken aback at its appearance that I did not think about shooting it until it had glided off and disappeared in the thick undergrowth.

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