‘Generally shy’ green mamba bites tourist

March 05 2010 at 07:28AM Get IOL on your mobile at m.iol.co.za
By Jauhara Khan

A Russian woman holidaying on the North Coast was in a serious condition in hospital yesterday after being bitten by a snake.

The woman, said to be in her 60s, who is believed to be holidaying at Umdloti, was crossing the Umdloti Link Road near the Whitesands shopping centre when she was bitten by a green mamba. Netcare911 spokesperson Jeff Wicks said the woman had been bitten twice on the leg.

She was found at the roadside in a critical condition by paramedics, who stabilised her before she was flown to the Umhlanga Hospital.

A hospital spokeswoman, Sheena Dhunlal, said the woman was in a stable but serious condition. Wicks said he had heard that the snake had been killed by police officers. However, both the metro police and SAPS denied involvement in the incident.

Umdloti Ratepayers Association chairman Bruce Stephenson said the woman might have been going to the shopping centre when she was bitten.

He said such attacks were not common in the area, but there had been an increase in the number of green and black mamba sightings owing to the recent hot weather.

According to JP Wittstock, of Durban reptile breeding facility Reptiles Unlimited, green mambas are generally shy and retiring, preferring to keep away from people. In KwaZulu-Natal, they live in forests close to the sea, mainly along the edge of Umhlanga and northwards, and near Isipingo and Amanzimtoti on the South Coast.

The green mamba secretes a potent neurotoxic venom that attacks the central nervous system, paralysing the victim’s breathing. Other symptoms include tingling around the mouth, tightness in the chest and slurred speech.

Depending on the victim’s health, the amount of venom secreted and the size and location of the affected area, the victim can experience symptoms in 15 to 30 minutes, and could die within two to three hours. However, if the victim is treated with anti-venom in time, recovery can take place in two or three days.

Wittstock warned that a snake would lash out if it felt threatened.

“Do not attempt to catch or kill a green mamba as it will defend itself by biting. Call a recognised snake catcher or someone with such experience to remove it instead,” he said.

If one came across a green mamba the best was to stand still or back away slowly.

Wittstock advised that if someone was bitten by a green mamba and had stopped breathing, CPR should be performed to open the airway. Pressure bandages, tied tightly around a limb affected by a bite, could also be used to slow down the movement of venom.