It’s a lovely sultry Saturday evening in January. The sun has set and the moon is just showing her face over the horizon. Ian, my husband, is in the lounge watching the rugby. I stroll into the kitchen and notice that the back gate is wide open.
Wandering outside, without the three normally obligatory Jack Russells, I head for the gate. The short twenty metre walk takes seconds. I lock the gate and double back, skirting the edge of a huge saltbush.
Midstride, in my peripheral vision, I see a blur of something black and simultaneously feel a sharp pain on my right calf, just below the knee. My immediate thought is that I have been attacked by a cat and its claws are digging into my leg.
The speed of the attack is astounding. Within a split second I have an entire python wrapped around my leg. The security light on the back of the house allows me a good view of the snake, although its head is totally concealed by the coils.
I realise that the python covers the entirety of my leg, from ankle to the top of my thigh. I grab his tail and try to unwind him. I unfurl one coil but as soon as I release my grip to grab further up, his simply coils himself up again and tightens his grip, all the while seemingly chewing on my leg in an attempt to get a better grip. I now appreciate that this is one big, big snake and I'm in serious need of some help.
I need to explain here, that Ian, a 6 foot 4 inch giant, has an inordinate fear and loathing of snakes, so I know when I start shouting for him that this is a big ask.
With the television on volume 200 it takes Ian, with the help of three overexcited Jack Russells a while to realise that the strange “Nagapie”-like noise they hear is in fact me, bellowing like a banshee.
To his credit Ian, with eyes the size of saucers, comes rushing to my assistance. He immediately grabs the end of the snake’s tail and begins to try and pull it off. This feels very much like I may lose my calf muscle along with the snake, and after a bit of a debate Ian decides that he needs a stick.
As Ian runs off to get the required stick I admit to a not unreasonable fear that his retreating back may be the last sighting I ever have of him. However, to my relief he is back in seconds with a fairly flimsy looking walking stick.
After one more attempt at unfurling the python we come to the conclusion that the only way we will get him off is by force. Ian proceeds to hit it with the stick.
After a couple of blows the python releases its grip slightly and Ian can see the head. The snake is determined to hang on and continues to chew on my leg. The only recourse is to force the stick into its mouth and force it to release. This done, Ian is able to remove the injured, angry and extremely aggressive snake. When it attempts to attack Ian he delivers a few more blows and we allow the Jack Russells to chase it out through the fence. We rush into the house to see what injuries I have sustained.
Surprisingly, thanks to a good pair of jeans, the bite is not too bad. Two big puncture marks and the smaller markings of the upper and lower jaw on either side of my calf - a bit disappointingly – is all there is. The profuse bleeding that we noticed during the attack was obviously caused by the pressure applied to my leg by the snake.
We dress the wound with bucket loads of Betadine and an old, rather bedraggled looking bandage found in an old rather bedraggled looking first aid kit… yes, a new one is on my 'to do' list. I immediately “Whatsapp” our tale to disbelieving family and friends in South Africa and Australia.
Less than an hour later we receive this very witty poem from my brother Russell, an ex-Zimbabwean living in Australia.
“For the Snake”
I'm late, I'm late declared the snake.
That little lady, she’s closing the gate
What fun I've had inside the fence - the lawn, the teas, the poolside nap,
The little dogs that yap, yap, yap.
Let's not forget the tasty mouse,
and the beautiful sunset from Granny's treehouse.
One last stop to check out the crystals
Beware of Mazungu wielding pistols.
So, back to the gate, I'm nearly there, just stop to smell roses,
Before the gate closes.
But alas, I'm late for the Madam’s ahead
Perhaps I should hitch a ride on her leg.
The transport was noisy and jiggled a lot,
I'll hang on a bit tighter to not lose my spot.
It was at this point I saw my mistake
For here comes Muzungu swinging a stake.
So it is true as my mother had said:
"A lift with the stranger could leave you dead"
Don’t you just love Zimbo humour, no matter how serious the situation?
Sadly, the poem turned out to be prophetic. The next morning the Jack Russells’ barking led us to the snake, lying outside the fence, having died from its injuries.
On a more serious note, I grew up in Africa and have always given snakes a wide berth and mostly they do the same. One is always wary of accidentally standing on a snake but I have never thought of myself as prey.
However, I have a photo I took in May 2018 of extremely large python hunting by my birdbath. I would not let the staff harm it, confidently declaring that it was no danger to us and would return to the woodland of its own accord.
This snake looks remarkably like the one that attacked me, which when measured the following day was 3.7 metres long. I do not think it attacked me by mistake as it had plenty of time to size me up on the way to the gate and I was easily in a size range suitable for its dinner - 1.59 cm tall and 52 kg in weight.
Having said that, many of the circumstances were in my favour; I am fortunate that Ian was at home and that I was not out walking on my own. Furthermore, of the many snakes I might have encountered, the python is the least dangerous, relying on its powerful, muscular body rather than venom. I am very thankful that it was not a black mamba, puff adder or any of the more venomous snake species resident in Zimbabwe
I am wary on my bush walks now, particularly at dawn or dusk. It is very humbling to realise that you are just one part of the food chain...