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All that Slithers

All that Slithers
Words: Melanie Ho

Horned Adder

RacingThePlanet: Namibia 2009 competitors sight snakes, specifically venomous ones, on and off the course. 


Before the first hour of the first camp had even passed, a set of iconic sightings had sent the competitors of RacingThePlanet: Namibia 2009 scrambling for their cameras.  As some of the local staff alerted the curious competitors to step away from the snakes, many of them couldn’t resist the temptation and stepped back slightly, only to set their cameras on maximum zoom.


According to medical director Dr.  Brandee Waite, RacingThePlanet: Namibia 2009 is the RacingThePlanet event where snakes are of serious concern.  Medical briefings have all included information on snakes and what to do if a competitor is bitten.  Top of the list of venomous snakes is the Puff Adder. 


“It’s one of the most deadly snakes in this area, with a tissue-destroying venom,” Waite said.  “It’s very widespread in Southern Africa, although they aren’t really aggressive snakes, they’ll just sit back and do their thing.”


While the Puff Adder isn’t the most deadly snake in the race course area, the Puff Adder is more common than some of the other deadly snakes in the area.  However, the Puff Adder’s strength cannot be underestimated – the snake is so dangerous that 50 per cent of serious envenomations left untreated results in death.  Some of the venom’s other powers over humans? The ability to burst blood cells, to eat away at cells in the affected area and to drop blood pressure.


An anti-venom, which is used for ten different snake bites, exists and is part of the medical team’s kit.  However, Waite said that many people are actually allergic to the anti-venom and so an Epi-Pen is also part of the kit – just in case.


Dr.  Megan Dell, another part of the RacingThePlanet: Namibia 2009 medical team, has traveled through Namibia before and that in her experience, the snake bites to the local people occurred most often in their beds when they did not roll their beds up in the morning. 


The Cape Cobra is another snake prominent in the region.  Its venom is a nerve toxin.  Scorpions are also present and so is a less common but extremely dangerous snake, the Black Mamba. 


Waite said she was surprised at just how fast the competitors had seen the snakes. 


“Initially I thought that the snake sightings would be rare, but since the sightings have already happened I think we’ll see more,” Waite said. 


Despite the potential threats of a snake bite, Dell had some reassuring words.  “I’ve seen snakes in Namibia before, but I really haven’t had any true encounters with them.  I’ve had more problems with snakes in the United States and in South America.”


Still, the sightings continue.  As Chuck Wilson (United States) made his way to the Stage 1 finish line, a group of volunteers asked Wilson how he fared. 


“I saw a cobra and took a picture,” Wilson answered. 




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