Trail Snakes

Nope, not the crew gunning for podium at races, we’re talking actual snakes on our trails, and what to do if your single track stoke is halted mid-stride by a slithery friend. Hint: don’t do what Hollywood told you to do!

It’s snake season, and it’s worth knowing how to manage encounters because, although snakes truly want nothing to do with trail runners, and will almost always move away from us at enviable speed, things can go wrong and a lot of misinformation has been doing the rounds.

The team at the African Snake Bite Institute has all the information and guidance that we could possibly need to stay safe out there. Tyrone Ping gave us his time and expertise. He advises trail runners not to panic and not to request guidance via uninformed social media platforms or your trail running Whatsapp group! Go to those in the know, and save the crucial info; it could save your life.


What are the snake species commonly spotted on the trails of the Cape, Jozi and in KZN at this time of the year?

Cape Trails:

Cape Cobra (highly venomous), Puff Adder (Highly Venomous), Mole Snakes (non-venomous can inflict a nasty bite) Skaapsteker (mildly venomous - bites would not require hospitalisation) and Cross Marked Grass Snake (mildly venomous - bites would not require hospitalisation)

Gauteng Trails:

Rinkhals (Highly Venomous these snakes can spit their venom), Puff Adder (Highly venomous), Mole Snakes (non-venomous can inflict a nasty bite) and Skaapsteker  (mildly venomous - bites would not require hospitalisation)

KZN Trails:

Black Mamba (Highly venomous), Twig Snake (Highly venomous) Rhombic Night Adder (Venomous), Herald Snake (mildly venomous - bites would not require hospitalisation) and Spotted Bush Snake (Harmless)

Beautiful big Puffadder spotted recently by Cape trail runner, Eugene Marais, on the lower slopes of Newlands Forest


If you and your crew are trotting along and spot a snake, what is the best protocol in terms of first response?

Tyrone: Keep a safe distance from any snake, at least 3 meters, as some snakes like the Rinkhals and Mozambique Spitting Cobra can eject their venom. These snakes can eject their venom very effectively up to 3m.

Never attempt to catch or pick up a snake, and be particularly wary of insignificant looking snakes that are dark grey or brown or black in colour. There are numerous venomous and non-venomous snakes that are easily confused. Picking up the wrong snake could land you in hospital. Give snakes a wide berth and, when possible, take an alternative route around the snake or wait for the snake to safely move off.


If someone is bitten, what are the numbers that runners should have on them, and what other advice do you have for snake bite victims?

Tyrone: Snakebites can be serious and sometimes life threatening and require swift and appropriate treatment. First point of call is to remain as calm as possible, keep the victim calm and get them to a hospital - this is by far the most important first aid measure. Always be familiar with what local hospitals in your area have a trauma unit and are equipped to deal with a medical emergency such as a snakebite.

Netcare Ambulance: 082911
ER24 Ambulance: 084124
Poison Information on Helpline: 0861 555 777
African Snakebite Institute: +27 82 494 2039

Do not try to cut or suck the venom out from the bite like in the movies - this does not work at all. People often ask for advice on social media, whatsapp groups and other sources. The advice given is often incorrect or out of date from "armchair" experts. This information or advice can be life-threatening.


Which are the leading hospitals across SA when it comes to treating snake bites?

Cape -  Tygerberg Hospital 021 938 4785
Gauteng - Milpark Hospital 011 480 5600 /  Eugene Marais Hospital -  012 334 2777 / Netcare Pretoria East Hospital 012 422 2300
Kwa Zulu Natal - Netcare St Augustine's Hospital - Trauma Unit 031 268 5559


Where can runners go to learn more?

Tyrone: We have recently released a book called First Aid for Snakebite (Including sections for treating farm animals and pets). It is a comprehensive 28 page full colour booklet that addresses first aid in snakebite in a concise yet comprehensive manner, written by Johan Marais.

Further reading: Snakes & Snakebite In Southern Africa - Johan Marais

Infographic posters are available as a free download from our website in A3 size.  We have posters for all provinces in Afrikaans and English as well as neighbouring countries and major cities available here:

Training Courses: The African Snakebite Institute offer FGASA-endorsed and registered with the HPCSA for CPD points. Snake Awareness, First Aid For Snakebite and Venomous snake Handling courses around the country - Please drop Ashley an email on for more information. 


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Photo credit: the African Snakebite Institute

Bitis arietans Puff Adder from Montagu

Black Mamba

Cape Cobra - Naja niveaYellow Cape Cobra (Naja nivea) Copyright Johan Marais

Cross Marked Grass Snake

Mole snake. Copyright Johan Marais

Mozambique Spitting Cobra (Naja mossambia)

Puff Adder

Rhombic Night Adder (Causus rhombeatus)

Spotted Skaapsteker (Psammophylax rhombeatus)