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The Kruger National Park’s most popular bird hide, Lake Panic, is famous for many reasons: for twitchers it’s a birder’s paradise, while photographers and wildlife enthusiasts adore the spot as game is in abundance. But what to do when a venomous snake pays the hide a visit?

For Wild traveller Abraham Mouton spotting a snake in the iconic Kruger National Park is always a highlight. During his last excursion to Lake Panic bird hide – located on the S42 near Skukuza Rest Camp – he was somewhat taken aback when a juvenile Mozambique spitting cobra made itself comfortable in the hide…

Abraham writes:

“It was mid-morning when we arrived at Lake Panic bird hide. As always, we slowly tip-toed our way into the hide, which was packed with visitors. [Only eight cars are allowed at a time. – Ed.] Some visitors were simply enjoying the view while others were more serious about getting that special bird shot.

“Looking to the right of the L-shaped hide, we could see a whole bench was available. In single file we started to make our way to the open section. Suddenly, a visitor stopped us in our tracks by pointing to the corner of the hide and whispering: ‘Snake!’

“The relatively young Mozambique spitting cobra lay curled up with its fork-like tongue working overtime. It cautiously kept an eye on every move around it. I was so excited! The sighting allowed for a wonderful photo opportunity while being considerate of the snake’s presence – not agitating the reptile and keeping a decent and safe distance.

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Pictures by Abraham Mouton

Surprise, surprise!

“The story behind the snake’s presence was shared by a lady that had been sitting in the hide for some time. She told us that while they were enjoying bird-watching, she felt something touching her feet. Before moving her feet, she fortunately checked first and then froze. It was the snake making its way across the floor to the other side of the hide where it took up a safer position in the corner.

“Being a regular visitor to the Kruger, we love visiting all the different hides from south to north. This specific snake encounter got me thinking… It’s a good idea to always consider a few safety tips before entering a bird hide.”

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According to Johan Marais, author of “Snakes & Snakebite in Southern Africa”, the Mozambique spitting cobra, like the rinkhals, is also known to play dead. Picture by Johan Marais

Abraham’s bird hide safety tips

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Picture by Romi Boom

Bear in mind that bird hides are open structures out in the bush. Gates and entryways will keep big game out, but smaller creatures may be able to get in.

  • Ask an adult to enter the hide before children rush in.
  • Scan every corner (including the roof) before relaxing.
  • Constantly be aware of your surrounds.
  • Give snakes their space – you are the intruder after all.
  • When encountering a snake, leave a note on the door or bench warning new visitors – not everyone is alert and bush-wise.

How to get there

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Lake Panic can be accessed from the main road between Skukuza and Paul Kruger Gate (H11). From Skukuza, drive to the four-way stop and turn right onto the H11. After 4km, turn right onto the S42. You will reach the hide after 1,5km. To get back to Skukuza, give yourself at least 30 minutes for other sightings. The gravel road from the hide is good for leopard sightings in the late afternoon, while the H11 tar road is known for wild dog at dusk.

Want to read more about Lake Panic? Click here to read the article that appeared in Wild’s 2015 winter edition.

*Featured picture by Abraham Mouton