How Snake and Cat Were Rescued From Each Other, and We From Both

Ezra Azra

© Copyright 2022 by Ezra Azra


Photo courtesy of Pixabay.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.
This is an account of an animal rescue as it happened on our farm in Africa.

Animal rescues on our farm were not memorable, generally, because they happened with boring regularity.

This one was unusual because while our cat and the snake were gearing up to fight to the death, we were trying to rescue both of them from each other, and ourselves from both of them. On our farm, the first tenet of our animal rescue ethics was to never let a fight happen between animals.

I'm glad to state that in this goal during my stay on the farm, we never failed.

I was born and lived my first twenty-nine years in a part of tropical Africa where poisonous snakes are as common as houseflies.

Having to rescue snakes in order to re-locate them is not an infrequent chore on farms in Africa, at least not in my time in Africa. It is no wonder, then, that persons in my time in Africa, from teenagers to adults, with skills to catch poisonous snakes were as common as snakes and houseflies. Hence, when a poisonous full-grown green Mamba got snared in a wire fence in a sweet-berry hedge just steps from our backyard patio door, the occasion in itself was not especially eventful, until the pet house cat made moves to attack the trapped snake.

Now, everybody and his cat in Africa knows that in the wild, cats have more than a fair chance of winning a fight with a snake. However, this was a Mamba snake, the most feared snake in all its colours of green, black and brown in equatorial and tropical Africa.

And this green Mamba was full-grown, which meant it had already won many fights.

Most, if not all, other snakes are known to prefer to avoid contact with humans. Only the Mamba will not necessarily slither away at the approach of people.

Ancient African practical wisdom admonishes that if you cannot kill a Mamba on your first attempt, let it alone in peace, because if you merely injure it, it will withdraw, to go on a vindictive hunt for any animal, humans especially.

When Jehovah God in the Bible declared "Vengeance is mine," the Mamba's response probably was, "Took the words right out of my mouth, Lord."

Farmers have been known to lose many cows within minutes to a single angry wounded Mamba.

Nonetheless, in the wild, cats have a fighting chance against Snakes. In the wild, cats eat snakes.

A dog does not have a prayer against a snake. In confrontation with a snake, a dog's movements, however swift in dog and human time, are merely slow motion in snake time. In my time on our farm, we lost two dogs to snake bites. Not one cat; not even injured by a snake.

Nonetheless, Granny was not about to risk our, allegedly, domesticated cat.
Domesticated farm cats all over the world, I dare say, can never be more than about, say, forty percent domesticated. Cats just won't allow a higher percentage. Dogs prefer, welcome, and thrive on being total slaves. Cats prefer to run away from home rather than to submit to less than, say, seventy percent independence.

Granny ordered that someone was to either kill the snake quickly, or free it. Both these choices were easy in this situation. It was our allegedly domesticated farm cat that inadvertently introduced an unusual difficulty.

At the sight of the snake, the cat, normally somewhat sweet and cuddly and soft furry-purry, became a dangerous wild and demented teeth-baring snarling hissing fierce beast. Or pretended to be; cats on farms and everywhere else, are wily manipulative creatures.

We adults having to choose between killing or rescuing the snake, felt safer approaching the poisonous unforgiving vengeful Mamba, than our cat. With the Mamba we knew precisely where we stood; we were the totally Biblically-Ancient accursed enemy.

With our cat, on the other hand, whether we were enemy or more-or-less friend, depended, it always seemed, on what day of the week and time of day it was.

It being, most of the time, Granny's Cat, we dared not let it engage in a fight in which it could die, no matter how slight that possibility on account of the snake being so seriously wire handicapped.

Yes, in this situation we feared both the snake in front of us and the cat behind us; but we feared Granny's anger more that would strike from above us.

More of us stood vigilant keeping the cat at bay with farm implements like rakes and hoes, and hedge clippers. We knew that if the cat chose to attack the snake, one or both of them would be dead within seconds. And, no matter what we did to intervene, we would be fatally disadvantaging one against the other.

We would have to resign ourselves to stepping back and letting the fight run its course to the ugly end. No doubt about it, every possible end would be sad and ugly for us. Both sad and ugly conditions would be considerably worse for us if the cat died, considering the Granny factor.

Despite the Mamba's frightful reputation, indigenous true Africans have a genetic admiration for the Mamba. And, so, although Granny purported to give us an equal choice to save or kill, none of us doubted the unanimous choice would easily be to free the Mamba, and that Granny would be more pleased by that outcome, even though she might try hard to not reveal her admiration for us. We would know by the especially sumptuous Granny-cooked food on the dinner table that evening.

The unusual never-before-encountered difficulty was that in snaking through the hedge, feasting on the sweet berries, the Mamba somehow twisted itself into a knot in the wire net fence around and through which the tendrils and branches of the hedge had grown. The snake could not slither itself free, even if it did not have to contend with a homicidal maniacal feline preparing to pounce on it.

That sweet-berry hedge had been planted specifically to bring small birds for decorations on the farm. It was immediately and wildly successful. Unfortunately, we ignored the presence of our farm cat when we planned the creation of the hedge.

The hedge's success supplied the cat with living warm-blood fresh meat just about every day. We were, actually, conflicted about being relieved of the pleasant obligation to provide store-bought food for our cat.

We had constructed the wire fence on two sides of the hedge as a cat deterrent, but it was proving to be successful only more-or-less. Discussions on what should be done about the problem continued on-and-off for weeks. This unexpected Mamba situation tipped the scales.

There was tacit unanimous agreement that the hedge had to go because it was twice as much a source of food for snakes as it was for the cat. The juicy berries were of no importance to the cat, but the berries and the birds were prime foods for the snake. What was surprising to us was that the snake had taken so long to locate the hedge.

It is not unthinkable that some of the cat's anti-snake ferocity arose out of resentment at its food source being diminished. It was the cat's unusual behaviour that had drawn our attention to the presence of the snake, in the first place. The Mamba being green, it was perfectly camouflaged from us. The cat had detected the snake's presence long before we did.

The plan to free the snake was a simple one, used often, with minor adjustments here and there each time.

First, ensnare the snake's head in the twine loop at the end of a long pole, the snake rescue pole.

Next, place a high-enough protective board of wood gently against the snake's head, and work behind the board to cut the wire away, and bend the cut ends to blunt them against hurting the snake which was sure to move violently the moment it felt free.

The wire snipper person would loudly announce moments before that final moment when that final moment was imminent.

Everybody took cover at a distance, except, of course, the snake rescue pole handler, who, of necessity had to be the last to have contact with the angry writhing twisting snake.

The snake pole handler, never a female in all my African lifetime, relied on a lot of luck laced with a modicum of skilled experience.

It was never safe nor easy to free the head of a violently writhing snake from the twine loop at the end of the snake pole. A snake pole handler's reputation suffered immeasurable setback if the snake was strangled to death by the twine.

There were apocryphal accounts of snake pole handlers permanently unemployed after a snake's head had been unluckily messily severed by the twine loop. I am most happy to note that in my lifetime in Africa I had never met such an unlucky snake pole handler, nor did I meet or know of anyone who had met or known of one.

The protective board would be abandoned to fall wherever the snake's violent gyrations fated it.

That is when nearby persons are at greatest risk. The Mamba is the only African Snake reputed among Africans to opt for vengeful attacks instead of a dash for freedom. And, too, attacks on more than one person within reach.

All who could, took care to position themselves out of sight of the Mamba in the moment it was free. Those who could not, like the snake pole handler, were ready to run, helter-skelter, for their lives, and not look behind until their predetermined hurdle to be scaled had been scaled. Only then is looking back dared because snakes cannot leap hurdles.
Slithering over a hurdle will always take more time than leaping over one.

On a few occasions I had witnessed Mambas moving swiftly as upright ropes on only the slightest bent tail-end, chasing alongside fleeing persons on level grassy ground. On one of those occasions the snake's backward strike had struck the female running person in the face. Snake serum administered almost immediately was of no help.

Granny insisted that before the snake was approached, the cat had to be caught and locked up in the home, and that children were not allowed to participate in capturing the cat, nor to be outside the house until the Mamba had been either killed or rescued and re-located.

We never found out how Granny accomplished it. She lured the cat to follow her into her room, and then Granny closed the door.

Only then did the rest of us feel it safe to begin the snake rescue.

All went fairly well as planned until, quite unexpectedly, the free but disoriented and probably enraged vengeful Mamba, headed for our patio door instead of the mango tree forest in the distance whence it had foolishly wandered. Or, perhaps, it wasn't disoriented, but was driven by the imperative genetic need for Mamba revenge.

However, and fortunately, the customary rock patio impeded its progress. On every surface other than grass, a snake’s movements are ridiculously inept. Buckets of water thrown on the snake re-directed it back to the mango forest.

Rock patios were standard in the village as deterrents against all kinds of snakes.

Subsequently, everybody in the village was alerted to stay away from the mango forest for a few weeks. That deliberate absence would not be a significant sacrifice since, because of the snakes at all times, nobody ever dared climb the trees. All the fruit we ever collected had already naturally fallen to the ground.

That mango forest had been cultivated generations ago to provide our family with marketable fruit. It was (foolishly, in Africa) unforeseen that snakes would sooner-or-later take over the mango trees. There was a lot of talk at the beginning, of the snake invasion being brought to an end by simple rifle execution.

Fortunately for the Snakes, marketable ripe mango's are not damaged when they fall to the ground. And the snakes in the trees did not interfere with persons regularly raking the ground under the trees in order to keep the ground snake-deterrent soft during mango ripening season.

It had taken the snakes years to discover the berry hedge far away from the mangos. But now that the Mamba proved they had found it, we had no doubt that snake visitations were about to increase.

Granny's thinking was way ahead of those snakes'.

After that rescue, Granny ordered the immediate removal of the wire fence and its sweet-berry hedge. Never again were there incidents of ensnared snakes, on our farm.

Another method of snake rescue was the use of alcohol-soaked soft material to douse the snake drowsy. Granny spurned that method as unworthy treatment of an animal as noble in its fearsomeness as a poisonous African wild Mamba snake. She did not object to stupefying other poisonous snakes and animals before rescuing them.

It is the unanimous belief in our family that that green Mamba spread the word that some cat owners can be trusted to do the righteous thing. Otherwise, how to explain no snake encounters on our farm for the rest of my life on the farm?

Our cat and Granny were happily alive when I emigrated from Africa some years later.  


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