Dangerous creatures - The significance of reptiles

  • 21 June 2012 | Paul Zammit

Reptiles in general, and snakes in particular, have been the subject of fear, malice, prejudice and persecution since the first cognitive beings inhabited earth! They are often misunderstood, many times killed out of ignorance, and the perpetrators of these deeds held in high regard rather than berated. Only when spoken of with passion and enthusiasm, and with insight, does it even enter anyone's mind that these are actually incredible animals that have adapted and survived many changes on this planet and require and deserve our adoration and protection.

In Southern Africa we have approximately 170 different species and subspecies of snakes, and in KwaZulu Natal only two species are protected to any degree at all, these being the African Rock Python (Python sebae) and the Gaboon Viper (Bitis gabonica).

The African Rock Python is the largest snake in Africa and is threatened not only by habitat destruction but also by hunting, being used as food and in traditional medicine. Being the largest snake in Africa also makes it vulnerable to exploitation in the pet trade. Incidentally reptile smuggling is third only to drugs and arms smuggling. The industry makes a devastating impact the wildlife in our country and in neighbouring countries.

Reptiles form a major link in the food chain, proving to be a strong control mechanism in rodent populations. Once persecuted by farmers as a pest and nuisance they are now nurtured and worked around far more in modern times as farmers become more aware of the impact they have on rodent populations. Rodents are preyed upon not only by snakes, birds of prey are also predators of rodents, however the snakes are the only predators able to infiltrate the burrows and eat the young as well as the adults, thereby breaking the breeding cycle and more effectively controlling rodent populations.guests and reptile

In SA we only have about fifteen species capable of killing a human being, and in an average year there are only four or five reported deaths from snakebite. Most of our fear of snakes is based on misinformation and misconception, and the need to control, that which we fear, often results in an attempt to kill the animal. If left alone this gentle and mysterious creature will do what comes naturally and vanish into the undergrowth with a ssssigh of relief.

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