Ghana Life: Still More About Ghana's Snakes

Readers of these EzineArticles may find it surprising that someone who knows almost nothing about reptiles should post three pieces about snakes, but on reflection it does seem that life in Kumasi in the 1970s and 1980s was a long sentence punctuated by serpents. That is not to say that one was tripping over the snaky substances every day, or emulating the Leaping Nuns of Norwich, but only that they were never far away. Our two species did our best to avoid one another but inevitably early warning systems broke down and close encounters became inevitable.

Living on the expansive pastoral campus of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology the staff houses were effectively sealed, but one was aware of the green mambas in the trees in the garden. Fortunately these creatures seemed to prefer to stay in the trees and were not included in the varieties of fauna that invaded our living space. 

The most dramatic of several domestic encounters involved a cobra*. This creature was met on a raised patio just outside the front door and within inches of a cat flap through which it appeared about to enter the house, perhaps in pursuit of a kitten called Smokey.

To deter the snake's entry involved taking up arms but when confronted by a man with a big stick it reared high in the air, expanded its hood, opened wide its mouth and spat. It is said that spitting cobras seldom miss the eyes of their assailant, but here is documentary evidence that fortunately on occasion they do miss. They also move very quickly, and before a second blow could be attempted the snake shot past its adversary, leaving a fleeting sense of wonder that its hood had completely deflated into the standard contours of a sleek anatomy. The intruder slid over the edge of the patio strait down 60 cm into its hole in the ground. Needless to say, the access was soon effectively blocked but there remained a sneaking hope that the foe which had fought so bravely had another exit to its lair, preferably far away from the house.

Another battle that was fought against diverse species of snakes over several months involved the loss of dairy cows from Canada. These animals were set grazing on specially prepared pasture on the university campus with the long-term objective of cross-breeding with local N'dama cattle to produce an animal resistant to tropical diseases but generous in milk yield. Unfortunately the beautiful big black and white Friesian cows were denied to the small brown bony N'dama bulls because they had little or no resistance to snake bite. Within a few weeks eight or ten prize milkers had become victims of the serpentine resistance to the invasion of their ancestral habitat, and the researchers of the Department of Animal Husbandry were contemplating keeping the immigrants permanently under detention in snake-proof accommodation.

Not only cows were victims to snake bite but also dogs. The loss of the guardian of the riding stables to a night adder, in spite of the administrations of the university's veterinary officer, has already been recounted. Suffering the same fate before the vet could be called was the author's own dog, Kwesi**, long-time companion of Smokey, but this is a story that is too painful to relate in detail. If the other tales provided the commas and colons of the long sentence of life in Kumasi, this tale must provide the full stop (period).

*Possibly Naja nigricollis for the experts.
**Born on Sunday, with apologies to Ghanaians who may be offended by a dog being given a human name.

Article Source: John Powell

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