Taking a holiday break? Beware of snakes and …. Elands?

With many families taking a holiday break at this time, it’s quite possible that they will come across wildlife – and not necessarily in the great outdoors.  It’s black mamba mating season in Kwa-Zulu Natal and there have been several sightings of this venomous snake, the most feared in Africa, in and around Durban.

It is often said to be the deadliest snake in the world and with good reason.  Human deaths, in untreated bites, could take anything from three to 16 hours, but in some cases, victims can experience severe breathing problems in less than half an hour.

So, what should you do if you come across one?  The KwaZulu-Natal Amphipbian Reptile Conservation advises that you leave them alone and don’t attack them.  The Black Mamba is in fact not aggressive and is quick to avoid people if given the chance. 011 301 0000 301 0244 – 082 820 7914

However, all wild animals, particularly wild animals, act on instinct and can therefore be unpredictable by nature.  Mande Toubkin, Netcare’s general manager: emergency, trauma, transplant and CSI, cautions: “It is therefore important to remember that wild animals can be potentially aggressive and even dangerous, and that due care should be exercised when around them, no matter their size or apparent temperament.”

People injured by elands

Toubkin was commenting on a recent review of Medibank data for the years 2015 to 2018, on patients attended to at the 45 emergency departments at Netcare hospitals around the country following attacks and bites by wild animals. This reveals that the animals responsible for the most patients seen at Netcare’s emergency facilities during the past four years were the elephant, followed by snakes and Africa’s largest antelope, the eland.


“We all know to avoid snakes and that elephants can be dangerous when agitated or encountered in the wild. However, the eland came as rather a surprise, with three people sustaining injuries from them.

During the period under review a total of 10 patients were assisted at the Netcare emergency departments for elephant attacks, many of which had a high injury severity score, which is an established medical score to assess trauma severity, and which sadly also resulted in some deaths.

She noted that the high number of cases related to attacks by elephant, which usually trample their victims, is of some concern. The World Wildlife Fund observes that elephant populations are becoming increasingly stressed due to humans encroaching on their territories, and the high incidence of poaching of elephants in certain areas. It notes that this encroachment is increasingly bringing people not only into greater contact with elephants, but also other kinds of wild animals.

Attacks by crocodiles, giraffes and hyenas

“Attacks by crocodiles, giraffes and hyenas were responsible for two cases each over this time. That a giraffe can pose a risk may come as a great surprise to many of us, but last year a man was fatally kicked in the stomach by one of these large and powerful animals, while there were also other recorded instances of giraffe attacks in 2018 that were not attended to at our Netcare emergency departments. These include an attack on a mother and child by a female giraffe that had apparently given birth to a calf shortly before the attack.”

While we may think of the hyena as a spineless scavenger, they have exceptionally powerful jaws, do sometimes hunt and there are recorded instances of them having attacked humans.

Toubkin says there were also cases attended to at Netcare emergency departments following attacks by lion, hippo and buffalo, animals that are considered some of the most dangerous in Africa. There were also instances of attacks by wildebeest and a shark, while an imported tiger is recorded as having injured a child who had to spend six days in hospital in 2016,” adds Toubkin.

She notes that Netcare’s Medibank data does not include trauma and emergency statistics for state sector or other private emergency and trauma services, and therefore do not provide a comprehensive national picture of injuries and deaths caused by wild animals.

“The study does, however, highlight the need for us all to be aware that all kinds of wild animals, large and small, can potentially behave unpredictably and aggressively in certain situations and may pose a threat to the unwary.

“It is therefore advisable to keep your distance and show due respect to wild animals and to avoid handling them, as far as possible. It is particularly important to stay away from wild animals that are with their young. In addition, captive wild animals are implicated in a relatively large number of incidents and should never be considered to be tame and ‘safe’ to handle.”

Toubkin points out that the Netcare emergency departments situated around South Africa handle substantial numbers of trauma cases every year, and those departments accredited to level 1 and level 2 by the Trauma Society of South Africa (TSSA) are authorised to treat all severity levels of trauma.

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