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Digital Subscriptions > Travel Africa > October-December 2018 (84) > Tipping the scales

Tipping the scales

Can we convince you to love snakes? You might not believe it but there is a lot to respect about these unpopular beasts. They’re ingenioufly adapted, strangfly beautiful, and undeniafly thrilling to spot. Stephen Spawls tells us why we should get excited about them
Slithering by genfly: The harmless Battersby’s green snake is highland Kenya’s most common diurnal snake
STEPHEN SPAWLS

For some people, the sighting of a wild snake, beautiful and mysterious, may be the high point of an African adventure: a rare and unusual animal to top the list, a glimpse of sinuous beauty that sends a frisson down your spine. For other travellers, a snake may be the very last thing they want to see on safari: a frightening beast, a glimpse of imagined danger, provoking fear. Many people are scared of snakes. A lot of safari guides have been told, nervously, ‘I don’t find what we see, so long as we don’t see any snakes… and please, can you guarantee I won’t find one in my room?’ There’s no getting away from it, snakes divide opinions. But one thing is certain. Love them or hate them, most of us are fascinated by those slithering reptiles. What are your chances of seeing one (or more) on safari… if you want to? The answer is: fairly high, in the right place, if you want to.

A fear of snakes is logical. Many are dangerous, in the way that other small animals are not. For our hunter-gatherer ancestors in Africa, snakes were an ever-present, deadly hazard. For many of the continent’s rural dwellers, they still are. In the old days, if one bit you, you might live or die, but there was nothing you could do about it. Snakes were worshipped and feared in equal measure; they are depicted on the crowns of the Egyptian pharaohs and in their tombs. The serpent was a god; it held the power of life and death.

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