Africa University 25th Graduation Ceremony
The SATURDAY COLUMN: How to keep snakes away

Isdore Guvamombe Assistant Editor
It is Saturday night and the sky has cleared in Harare for what is a much-needed break from the cloud cover that accompanied heavy rains.

For days, the nights have been clogged with clouds pregnant with rain, but today the sky has cleared.
Far from the hullabaloo of the city centre, from the oeuvre of music, screeching vehicle tyres and indeed far from the hassle and bustle of the city centre, Sugar Chagonda’s family is enjoying outdoor dinner in Avondale.

The moon rises imperceptibly from the east, firstly as a golden hued mothball, slowly morphing into a bright plate and juxtaposes with the lush green lawn to give an exotic ambiance. The family has for long craved for this candle-lit dinner.

In the sky, the moon continues to rise imperceptibly and the stars keep their distance, oblivious of the fact that the moon is their superior and that terrestrial social space must be respected.

Indeed, the moon is their superior, for, they only shine brightly in its absence. As the moon drifts westwards, so does the stars, shining brightly, yonder in east and dimly in the west over the dinner set on the lawn. Everything is written “Grandeur!”

A spitting distance from the lawn, tree branches and leaves sing unknown rhythms, taking their notes from the westerly winds. The family is excited.

The few candles carefully set on vantage points, defiantly wink at the wind, their flame blending with the cutlery, the tables, the plates and the aura of the night.

The buffet dinner is inviting and sumptuous. The family enjoys the meal, speaks, jokes and laughs.
Suddenly there is stampede, screaming as everyone scampers for cover. Plates, food, cutlery and little everything else is thrown away in the melee. Expensive whisky!

It is a snake! The dinner is deflowered.
Chagonda is a close friend of mine. For his huge frame and ashen hair, you can imagine how he scampered for cover and his whole family. Worse still, Chagonda had just left the ghetto to stay in plush Avondale and was still enjoying the new environs.

Late into the night he calls me. I could hear him huffing and puffing from the other end of the phone. He knows my love for snakes. I rush to his house and try to locate the snake. It is nowhere. Vanished and swallowed by the night!
Being night, I tell him to stay indoors and we look for the snake in the morning.

For the better part of the night, the family huddles for prayer. Hailing from Magombedze Communal Lands in Gutu, superstition reigns supreme in Chagonda’s family. As a true friend, I get to his house early in the morning. The snake is nowhere to be seen. But the family is in panic.

They have prayed all night long, seeking divine intervention.
I discovered in the backyard was a banana junkie and also a bamboo cove. Clutter! After clearing the two with the help of contracted workers, we find the snake, a cobra. It must have stayed there for years and had grown almost two metres.
What happened next is subject for another instalment, but Chagonda had learnt a lot of lessons on snakes.

Away from poor Chagonda, the rainy season is upon us and the slithers and creepy-crawlies are also on the prowl.
The snakes are indeed on the move. The dry season is over. Their burrows and holes are filled up with water and they need new habitats.

Many people enjoy encounters with snakes and I am one of them, others would rather never see one at all, particularly near their home.

Others cringe by the mere mention of snakes.
But snakes, by their nature avoid human beings. On first sight, everything else being equal, they look for escape routes.
Believe it or not, snakes dislike humans as much as we dislike them.

When you see a snake at your house, it means you either have plenty of its food or a good habitat. Simple. A snake never wants to be your friend, neighbour or enemy, given a choice. It can only be part of your family if you are generous, knowingly or unknowingly, with food and a good habitat. It likes good habitats and easy-to-get food.

Keep your home clean of the clutter and unkempt orchards. Banana coves, bamboo groupies and sugar cane plantations, no matter how small, provide both good habitat and food as many rodents live there.
Snakes hunt a lot.

Chicken, guinea fowl, birds and their eggs attract a variety of snakes. Rabbits too!
Outside electricity bulbs keep our homes lit and beautiful, but they attract moths, frogs and other creepy-crawlies and these subsequently attract snakes. A snake is likely to live for months on end in your house if you have rats, flies and cockroaches in your house.

Plant snake repellent flowers and in the case of Zimbabwe, they are readily available and sold cheaply at nurseries, especially at National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority gardens dotted throughout the country.

The main garden is at the Parks head office in Borrowdale, Harare and Ewenrig Botanical Gardens along Shamva Road.
Snakes mainly bite when cornered. But not all snakes are poisonous.

Some like pythons kill by constriction and bite like dogs. Other snakes like the spitting cobra might make you and your pets blind if they attack your eyes.

In that case, you can use milk or human urine to rinse the affected eyes. But that is temporary measure to give you time to visit a hospital.

If snakes seem to always find their way into your yard, keep them away with ammonia.
Snakes hate the smell and won’t come near it.

Soak rags in ammonia and place them in unsealed plastic bags. Leave the plastic bags where you usually see the snakes, and they won’t come back again.
Snakes also dislike vinegar and diesel.

They normally avoid places where you spill diesel or vinegar. A search on the Internet will reveal products specifically formulated to keep away snakes.

(The next instalment will be on how to react when you come across a snake and their levels of venom.)

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