Beware: Snakes in Transit

The other day I found myself driving behind this truck:

Don’t worry, we were in stationary traffic when I took the photo, so no lives were endangered in the creation of this blog. As you can see, it was quite a rickety old truck, which is really not a good look when transporting snakes. I for one would be a lot happier if they used those cash-in-transit vans for transporting snakes… and if they could throw in a couple of heavies with AK47s to oversee the transportation and ensure against any escapee snakes, that would be even better.

Seeing this truck made me chuckle though, as it reminded me of stunts that my brother and I used to pull when we were younger. Actually, he still pulls them. At home, we had a general policy of not killing snakes that we found on our property, but exceptions were made for cobras, puff adders and other deadly snakes. Those would be killed immediately. Although deadly, we didn’t kill pythons either, as they are royal game in Zimbabwe and killing them is punishable with a prison sentence.

Snakes that weren’t lethal were usually caught by my brothers, both of who went through phases of keeping snakes, during which time they became relatively professional snake catchers. This was, without a doubt, the most difficult of their hobbies for my mum and I to support, but as they’d both loved snakes from a very young age, we eventually got used to it. I remember the younger of my brothers, at no more than 4 years old, walking into the lounge one day with a snake in each hand, saying “Mummy, look what I found!” We both looked casually towards him and, then realising what he was talking about, there followed general panic. He didn’t understand what the problem was and kept trying to tell us that he had left another one outside, as he hadn’t been able to pick up all three at the same time with his tiny hands.

My other brother came home on more than one occasion with a snake in his lunch box, proudly telling us how he’d caught it at school and put it in his lunch box to bring home to show us. Other awkward snake moments with my brothers usually involved snakes “getting lost” in the house. They were never found again. That was seriously not cool. I would spend weeks after each disappearance checking my bed before I got into it, terrified that the snake would be in my bed. Hence my fear of escapee snakes.

The older of my brothers also kept a baboon spider for a time. It lived in an aquarium in his room, and was about the size of a grown man’s hand, being by far the hairiest and ugliest thing I’d ever seen. My skin used to literally crawl whenever I saw him playing with it, letting it climb all over him. He loved that spider and said he could even tell what kind of mood it was in by its body language. But that spider freaked me out big time. Then one day, the spider was gone. It had escaped in the house. I wanted to move out as I couldn’t handle the thought of stumbling across it in my room one day. The disappearance of that spider crossed the line and there ended my brothers being allowed to bring their creatures inside the house. And there was a zero tolerance enforcement of that rule.

When it came to catching snakes, my brothers used to use a catcher like the one below. It’s kind of like a huge pair of tweezers and allows you to grip onto the snake quite securely, but without injuring it.

After catching a snake, there would follow the invariable begging to be able to keep the snake. They would promise to look after it properly and not to take it inside the house. Generally, unless they were totally harmless and easy to look after, my mum wouldn’t let them keep them, so we occasionally found ourselves with a snake on our hands that we needed to get rid of.

At some stage, we came up with the idea of releasing them on a nearby farm which had been taken over by war vets, but was largely uninhabited. The problem is we had to drive on one of Harare’s busiest roads, and through a permanent road block, in order to get there, and the last thing we wanted was for the snake to escape in the car while we were driving on the busy road. For a while, we used to put them into a cooler box and, while I drove, my brother would have to sit on top of the cooler box to make sure the snake didn’t get out en route.

But then we figured that we could just hold the snake out of the window with the catcher. So I drove, while my brother gripped the snake out of the window. We did this mainly for our own entertainment as everyone who saw the snake hanging out of the window on the way to the farm would go totally ballistic. The best moment was that when the cop, who had slowly ambled into the middle of the road to stop us as we approached, realised that there was a snake hanging out of the window. You’ve never seen grown men run like that. It was awesome.

We would drive through without being stopped, and release the snake safely on the farm. On the way back, however, we would have to face the wrath of the cops and, each time, they made us promise to never do it again. And, each time, we promised that it was the last time. Yes, officer, for sure, for sure, the last time. Well, until the next time anyway.

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