Ignatius Mabasa Shelling The Nuts
When we were growing up, Gwetera was home to all sorts of wildlife, including lions which we often heard roaring at night. Today, if one visits Gwetera and Mukaradzi, there are huge gaping holes everywhere, which are a result of people who are camped there digging for gold.
One farmer once shared a remarkable true story that I found very interesting.
He was in the chicken farming business and had a problem with jackals that were coming to steal his chickens.
The farmer tried to guard his chickens, but he could not guard the chickens 24 hours a day because he had to attend to other things.
One day, he saw a jackal that was just about to get into his yard.
He got so angry and shouted at the jackal saying, “Hey you, stop right there! What do you want to do?
“You can’t come here to steal my chickens and break my heart. I want you to go away and don’t ever come back here again!”
Indeed, the jackal ran away and from that day onwards, the farmer said not even a single jackal came to steal his chickens. I found that story interesting not because of the effects of the words, but because we used to have a similar problem at our farm.
We used to have all sorts of snakes, birds and mongoose coming to steal our chickens and eggs, and I wish I had told them off!
This past Christmas I went to my rural home in Mt Darwin.
It was good to escape the city life and walk along wet footpaths after the rain.
The sights and smells of the countryside reawakened childhood memories.
I saw dung beetles rolling their balls of dung and dragonflies hovering, darting and diving in the hot and humid air.
I ploughed the fields after a very long break, and enjoyed inhaling the sweet smell of wet soil.
While tilling the fields, I exposed some snake eggs with the plough.
My son wanted to know how I knew they were snake eggs. I explained to him how when I was growing up at the farm, we used to see lots of animals and snakes.
We used to chase baboons, wild pigs, porcupines, hedgehogs and other animals from destroying our crops.
My children were so excited to see some snake eggs, but also to eventually see a real snake even though it was in trouble. We were walking from the fields when we noticed that the hens had been startled by something and they were making clucking noises to warn of some danger.
At that point, they were joined by the family rooster, which came running fast.
As soon as the rooster arrived, the hens scattered to a safe distance.
The rooster bent down and started furiously to peck on something on the ground. We soon noticed that it was attacking an about 40-centimetre long house snake called dzvoti in Shona.
The young snake was trying hard to escape, but the rooster was not kind with it at all. It kept pecking it, aiming for the head. Sometimes it picked it up and ran with it while the snake twisted trying to free itself. Eventually the rooster killed and ate the snake, that is why I decided not to have any chicken meat for Christmas.
I have never seen a chicken attack a snake of any size. I have known chickens to generally raise alarm when they see a snake because snakes steal and eat their eggs and chicks, while pythons actually kill and eat the big chickens.
I know that bigger birds like eagles and the secretary bird (hwata) actually hunt and eat snakes even poisonous ones.
I am still wondering whether chickens eat house snakes regularly or if the rooster’s actions were just swagger before the hens?
Whatever the case, it was a spectacle to see the bully being bullied, and the predator becoming the prey.
I managed to capture the rare footage on my mobile phone and I have been playing back the video in fascination.
A friend I discussed the video with told me that sometimes, roosters get killed by venomous snakes when they try to protect the hens. This means chickens are not as “chicken” or stupid as we think they are. They know their environment and perhaps they know more than we do.
This rooster probably knows that house snakes are non-venomous and timid.
According to Wikipedia, “Wild house snakes are often very nervous, but are not prone to biting. Their first defensive action is to flee.”
This is exactly what we saw the poor snake doing. Whenever the rooster pecked it and picked up in its beak, the moment it put it down, it tried very hard to escape, but the rooster would follow it and aim for the head, peck and pick up the poor snake again and run with it.
It is such experiences that inspire me as a writer and storyteller.
I don’t talk about snakes and animals based on National Geographic experiences, but on some very close and personal encounters I had growing up at the farm.
One such encounter was when I was playing hide and seek and decided to hide behind some drums that were in a huge tobacco barn. When I thought I had found a good place to hide, I realised that I had squatted next to a king cobra.
I was numb with fear and could not move or scream. The king cobra was within arm’s-length and it had very distinct black and yellow stripes.
It was big, but it behaved as if I did not matter at all. It just slithered away, leaving me in shock. I still remember its beauty and grace as it slithered away.
I learnt a valuable lesson that snakes don’t just bite, but can also choose to escape when disturbed.
The other time that I saw another king cobra was very different from the first encounter.
The second king cobra I saw was so furious and menacingly advancing towards some herd boys.
A fine jet of spit could be seen flying from its mouth. The herd boys had provoked it by stoning it, and it was trying to defend itself. This king cobra had spread its hood very wide and it dodged stones swiftly. It was not a game anymore and someone could get killed.
Eventually, the boys had to leave because it was getting dark and dangerous. The battle left trees bruised and the grass broken.
My other encounter was with two black mambas.
Up to now I can’t tell whether they were fighting or mating. The two gunmetal coloured serpents were about two and half metres long.
They were locking and twisting their bodies violently in the grass, exposing greyish-white bellies.
This took place when I was standing less than two metres from one of Africa’s most feared venomous snakes.
I think to the two twisting snakes, I did not exist. They were preoccupied with their game. Even though we had all these sightings of snakes and more at the farm, my grandmother is the only person who got bitten by a snake, but she didn’t die from the bite.
In the recent years that I have been to the farm, I am noticing that there are fewer and fewer snakes and animals that I see.
The only wild animal I have seen in years is a squirrel. I think human activity has driven and even decimated most animal species I used to see.
In the past few years, insatiable gold panners, who have turned the once tranquil Gwetera forests and Mukaradzi River into a sorry state have invaded Mount Darwin.
When we were growing up, Gwetera was home to all sorts of wildlife, including lions which we often heard roaring at night.
Today, if one visits Gwetera and Mukaradzi, there are huge gaping holes everywhere, which are a result of people who are camped there digging for gold.
Mukaradzi River has been raped and badly infected with a wasting disease.
Gold panners are even digging the riverbed itself and the river’s banks are collapsing. Water flow has been diverted and generally the ground is weak because of the many interconnected holes and tunnels underground.
The noise and the littering by the vendors and the gold panners are disheartening. With such a human invasion and destruction of forests, rivers and land, even the toughest of animals will die or move to other safe places.
What is unfortunate is that, when we tell our children and future generations about the close encounters we once had with animals, most of the animals will be extinct and our stories will sound unbelievable.
As Charles Mungoshi said, “Ndiko kupindana kwemazuva.” It is a phenomenon of the passage of time.