A puff adder
A puff adder
The larger and distinctively patterned gaboon adder.
The larger and distinctively patterned gaboon adder.
Some of the young adders soon before their release into the coastal dune forest at Lake St Lucia.
Some of the young adders soon before their release into the coastal dune forest at Lake St Lucia.

Durban - More than two-dozen rare snakes have been released in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, the last South African stronghold for the beautiful but deadly gaboon adder.

The 26 young gaboon adders, born in captivity at the St Lucia Crocodile and Education Centre, were released recently at three locations in the dune forest along the Eastern Shores of the lake.

Known for their striking geometric patterning that resembles fallen leaves, gaboon adders are the heaviest adder species. With a triangular-shaped head almost as large as a human hand, they also have very long fangs (about 40mm).

With the increasing destruction of their chosen habitat in Dukuduku forest and other locations along the northern KZN coast, the iSimangaliso world heritage site has become an important site for the conservation of the species.

Wetland Park’s chief executive, Andrew Zaloumis, said the adders were released in line with protocols developed by researcher Jon Warner, who completed his MSc thesis on the conservation biology of this species in South Africa.

“Jon’s findings pointed to the importance of maintaining the continuity and integrity of the entire iSimangaliso dune forest corridor for the conservation of the gaboon adder,” said Zaloumis.

As part of his research, Warner fitted radio-tracking devices in the bellies of several adders to study their movement patterns. He found that they were very sedentary, with some remaining in the same spot for up to 87 days.

During the breeding season, their average movement distance was about 598m and in summer they tended to stay in the same place in ambush mode for several weeks, often next to game trails.

The Zulu name for the species is umanqunjwana.

Snake expert, Dr Johan Marais, said although a gaboon adder bite could be deadly, bites in South Africa were virtually unheard of, except among snake handlers.

“The bite is not unlike that of a puff adder – potently cytotoxic causing massive swelling, pain and blistering that may result in necrosis and severe tissue damage.

“But even the puff adder accounts for few deaths, as victims usually have enough time to get to a hospital and treatment. Gaboon adders are not often encountered, very well camouflaged and fortunately reluctant to bite. They will hiss loudly to scare you off.”

The Mercury