Most people don’t think about snakes in Zimbabwe. They’re too busy dreaming of that once-in-a-lifetime safari trip to the lion-stalked Hwange National Park or visions of the roaring Victoria Falls. But there are some creatures of the legless reptile variety that we think you should probably whiz up on before jetting down…
That’s where this guide to the snakes in Zimbabwe comes in. It’s got info on seven of the deadliest sliders that this corner of Africa has hidden between its savannahs and woods and waterways, with the lowdown on why you definitely do not want to fall victim to one of their bites.
There’s quite a variety. In fact, some estimations have it that there is something like 83 individual species of snake in the country, including over 20 that are venomous, from the formidable black mamba to the elusive Gaboon viper and beyond…
Puff adder (Bitis arietans)
Puff adders live across the whole midriff of Africa, from the Rift Valley to the shores of Namibia. In fact, they are pretty much everywhere on the continent apart from the Sahara and desert regions, which means you’ll certainly have a chance of spotting one in Zimbabwe.
Whether you’d want to is a whole other issue. These guys are seriously venomous. They have a mix of cytotoxic and hemotoxic venom that’s among the most powerful of any viper species. They are thought to be responsible for more deaths as a proportion of snakebites than any other snake in Africa. You’re looking at a bite that can cause serious swelling, hypotension, necrosis – you name it!
Usually about a meter in length, puff adders have a pattern of dark bands on a lighter backdrop. They can adapt to a whole range of habitats, but love rocky, rolling grasslands the most. If found, they usually won’t attack at first, but will become aggressive if cornered.
Gaboon viper (Bitis gabonica)
The Gaboon viper is a native to the lush rainforests of Central Africa. It can be found from Guinea and Ghana all the way to the KwaZulu-Natal Province of South Africa and has a pretty high population count in Zimbabwe along the way. They tend to love wooded areas, thriving particularly well in farms and tree plantations.
Sadly, that often brings them into human contact. And that’s not good news. Oddly, the venom itself isn’t really the issue – it’s a relatively weak mix of cytotoxins that’s not up there with the worst in the world. The danger is the fact that Gaboon vipers don’t like to let go of victims. Once their teeth are in, they tend to stay in, allowing for enough time for the snake to inject the second-highest venom yield of any in the world. Yikes!
Thankfully, that’s mitigated just a little by their famously placid nature. These snakes really don’t like confrontation at all. They’ll slink and slide away and always warn potential victims with a loud hiss before attacking. Keep those ears open, folks.
Anchieta’s cobra (Naja anchietae)
There’s only a very small part of western Zimbabwe that the Anchieta’s cobra has managed to colonize. Mainly, it’s the Hwange National Park, a land of buffalo-dotted plains, acacia forests, and seasonal wetlands that’s now rising to become one of the main safari havens in the country.
You’ll want to keep watch for these serpents as you keep watch for the lions and the leopards, though. Why? They are pretty darn dangerous, possessing a venom that can cause severe cardiovascular complications and fangs that have the ability to inject a whole lot of it in one fell swoop.
Anchieta’s cobras are medium-sized snakes with the trademark cobra fanned head. About a fifth of the species develop a unique color banding that sees a darker line form around the head. Others turn monochrome shades of dark brown and tan the whole way along.
Snouted cobra (Naja annulifera)
One of the most venomous snakes in Africa, the snouted cobra is certainly something to avoid on your travels between Southern Mozambique and Zimbabwe. They only have a small spread of territory in the southeast of the continent but there are enough about to warrant the fearsome reputation.
Said rep comes from the ridiculously powerful neurotoxic venom compound that’s injected into victims during a bite. It’s one of the worst in the world for humans, causing respiratory failure and shutdown of vital organs if left without antivenom treatment for too long.
Growing to between 1.2-1.8 meters, snouted cobras are by no means small snakes. They can be marked out for their fanned hood and speckled yellowish pattern on the underbelly. Considered highly volatile, the species is known to panic quick and strike fast, so keep your distance if you do happen upon one in the outback.
Mozambique spitting cobra (Naja mossambica)
Although named for the country next door, Naja mossambica actually have a range that spreads all throughout Zimbabwe. Yep, they’re found in all four corners of the country, often preferring habitats that are near a regular freshwater source where they can go a-hunting for their favorite diet of small frogs and smaller snakes.
You can hardly miss these guys. They’re not huge but can hit lengths of up to a meter in all. However, they have a striking look that’s quintessentially cobra – think a wide, fanned hood with tan or pink lines marking the back scales and occasional lined patterns of orange and red on the front, although individuals can vary greatly in appearance
Just as the name implies, these guys are spitters. They can project venom up to three meters at potential victims. Of course, they can also bite. Neither is good news, as the attack brings out a corrosive mix of toxins that can destroy flesh and often leaves patients badly disfigured if not dead.
Eastern vine snake (Thelotornis mossambicanus)
Cue the eastern vine snake. One of the rarer snakes in Zimbabwe that you might just find if you venture out to the forested areas of the country, especially the heavily wooded northern reaches, this one’s a pretty unique critter that has some trademark physical features…
Look for the strangely shaped arrow-style head. It’s small and joins a body that’s colored in dusty greys and browns with a pattern that makes it look almost indistinguishable from a twig in a tree. There are occasional markings of black and brown that only help add to the camo to the extent that you probably won’t spot this one as you make your way through the woods.
You won’t want to reach out and grab it, though. You’ll soon find that it’s not a vine because they have a strong hemotoxic venom that can interrupt proper blood flow and lead to massive internal bleeding. Not nice. Not nice at all.
Black mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis)
Last but most certainly not least on our list of the snakes in Zimbabwe comes the largest venomous snake in all of Africa: The black mamba. Capable of clocking up lengths of three-plus meters, these guys are rated among the 15 most deadly serpents of anywhere on the globe. The reason? Well…let’s just say that bites that go without treatment have a mortality rate of 100%.
Black mambas have two main areas of coverage in Africa. The first is in the northern half of the continent in the sub-Saharan regions between Burkina Faso and Sudan. The other is further south, covering a swathe of South Africa and Lesotho, not to mention the whole of Zimbabwe.
Common in both tree-covered landscapes and on plains with termite mounds, this snake is a versatile forest- and floor-dweller. They are known to be very aggressive and quick to strike. Once in the arm, the venom usually doesn’t cause any local symptoms. However, after 10 minutes, victims will begin to slur their speech and have muscle twitches. Total death can be as fast as 45 minutes in some patients.
Snakes in Zimbabwe – a conclusion
There are a whole host of snakes in Zimbabwe. At last count, scientists had officially documented just over 80 individual species in the African nation. Of those, about 23 are venomous but only about 15 are considered lethal to humans. That bunch includes some of the most feared serpents on the planet, from the black mamba to the puff adder, not to mention spitting vipers than can squirt their venom into the air!
Are there venomous snakes in Zimbabwe?
Yes, there are quite a few venomous snakes in Zimbabwe. In fact, most scientists agree there are over 20 snakes that have access to venom in the country. However, of those, only about 15 or so are considered deadly to humans.
What’s the most dangerous snake in Zimbabwe?
There are a few snakes that could lay claim to being the most dangerous in Zimbabwe. The black mamba is certainly worth a mention. It has a very powerful neurotoxin venom that can kill within an hour. However, we also think that the puff adder is worth considering since it is responsible for more bites in Africa than any other species.