African Tales – The Black Mamba

November 25 – (NOTE: no snake picture in this post, as several of our readers are, shall we say, snake-averse. However, this website has some excellent photos, if you are curious)

Just about everyone in eastern Africa has heard of the black mamba, a large, swift, and dangerous African snake.  They can grow up to 14 feet in length and have a very toxic venom. I have a picture of me, at around six or seven years old, standing on my dad’s shoulders under the overhang of our roof, next to a dead mamba hanging down from that overhang. I believe it was a ten-footer or thereabouts that African students on the mission station had killed after a battle with sticks and stones.

Rocky hills known as kopjes

On this same mission station one day, a group of missionaries were out taking an afternoon stroll among the rocky hills near by known as kopjes (koppies). Up ahead we suddenly spied a black mamba speeding towards one of those kopjes, and my Dad and I immediately gave chase, grabbing up sticks as we ran. As mambas usually do, it had its head and a couple of feet of neck raised up off the ground, the better to strike at enemies, I guess, but it just fled and did not strike.

The blows of our sticks did not slow it down and as it reached the foot of the hill it slid in under a large slab of rock and vanished – except for a few inches of tail it neglected to pull in out of sight. Knowing that snakes always resist being pulled out backwards, Dad seized that tail and began to pull. The mamba stayed put, holding on firmly to its rocky cover. I climbed up over the rock slab and discovered a large crack in it, and right there down below the crack was the head of that mamba. What luck! But not for the mamba, of course.

I took out my pocket knife and reached down into the crack and stabbed that head. The mamba very quickly changed policy and backed out immediately. Dad had been pulling hard and now with the tension released he fell over backwards. Fortunately as he did so he managed to swing the snake way out away from him and was unharmed. Injured as it was, the mamba was unable to escape and we soon killed it and hung it up in a small sapling and continued our walk. On the way back I went over again to inspect our prize, and it struck like lightning in my direction. Not quite dead yet, apparently, but unable to aim accurately due to injury. This mamba was about nine feet long. I’m glad it missed! – DALE

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