Living in the bush has its ups and downs, but one of the biggest ups (or perhaps downs to some) is being able to expect to find a new friend – furry, scaly, or otherwise – almost every day. This summer, we have been very lucky to receive visits from a variety of the local inhabitants from every part of the food chain, including a few shy ones that seem to have worked up the courage to say hi!
It seems to be a very sssweet summer for the snakes here at Noloholo because they have been popping up in some curious places. It can get pretty hot out when the sun is high in a cloudless sky up here on our hill, and ectotherms like snakes have to physically move themselves into warmer or colder locations to regulate their body temperatures. Our first visitor was a beautiful young puff adder who decided that the best place for shade was our environmental centre one afternoon during a visit with Dr. Sarah Durant of the Serengeti Cheetah Project and the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative. The snake appeared in almost surreal clarity, as if sharpened to perfection. In the sun, each scale – olive, gold, and brown – was visible in full detail. If you ever get the chance to see one in the wild, you will be sure to be struck by its beauty, along with some amount of fear depending on how ophidiophobic you are. They are, after all, responsible for a large chunk of the snake-related fatalities in Africa.
This puff adder is just one of the guests we had in our environmental center this summer.
Speaking of ophidiophobia, the fear of snakes, would you go for a run knowing that one of the deadliest snakes in the world was hanging around? The black mamba is named not for its skin colour, but for its mouth, which starts to resemble death itself if you stare into the seemingly endless black hole for long enough. The silhouette of a rising mamba, which can easily lift two-thirds of its muscular body off the ground, is enough to strike fear into even the bravest warrior, let alone a new father taking his daughter for a stroll.
Then, there was the central African rock python. The biggest snake in Africa, and it snuck into our environmental centre (which seems to be a popular place) without any trouble. What’s more, it managed to climb just above the doorway for a quick nap without anyone noticing until an intern with a keen eye for snakes noticed its sleeping figure. Luckily, our wildlife intern had some experience with snake handling, and after a little bit of MacGyvering, a lot of manoeuvering, and a few pictures, she was able to set the snake out into a more suitable place for a nap. It was only a baby, after all.
On the Maasai Steppe, the night brings a cacophony of noises, and no night is exactly the same. The strangely harmonious hollow call of the hyena and the distant (or sometimes not-so-distant) moans of a lion pride are truly unique and magical experiences when you’re sleeping under a billion shining stars. One of the most haunting sounds, however, is the sound of a herd of frightened zebra whooping loudly as they run from a pride of lions. The scattered calls are sure to echo in your mind for years afterwards. Especially when, the next morning, the reason for the night chorus becomes apparent with the body of a young zebra sitting next to the staff fire pit. Those moments ensure that the circle of life, both the concept and the song, still sit in the back of your mind.
As old Murphy (as well as all the data on big cat vs. snake densities) would have it, the number of times we saw snakes this summer outnumbers the number of times we saw lions in camp. However, the lions continue to remind us of their presence with their nighttime taunts. It’s funny how many animals you can see when you’re not studying them.