Friday, February 28, 2014

Snakes of Liberia

A Gabon Pit Viper. "Cassava Snake"
Public Domain

Indiana Jones would hate it in Liberia. It is assumed that Liberia is home to the greatest variety of snakes on the African continent. In Liberia one can find vipers, adders, pythons, cobras, mambas, and asps just to name a few. For a more in depth introduction, ArcelorMittal has posted a great guide to the snakes of Liberia on its corporate website hereAlso, here is another interesting post on the venomous snakes in Liberia from TLCAfrica. 

For this post I just want to introduce a few of the snakes of Liberia and tell a few snake stories. Everyone who has lived in Liberia has a snake story or two or three...

Dendroaspis polyepis, jamesoni, & viridis

Green Mamba
by Patrick Coin. 

There are black and green mambas in Liberia. We have several mamba stories. One particular story is about the time that mom looked down to see a green mamba wrapped around the leg of the chair she was sitting on! One isn't supposed to make any sudden movements, but before she knew what she had done she was standing on top of the table yelling! This particular green mamba met his fate on our kitchen floor after trying to hide behind our kerosene refrigerator. 

Black Mamba
Photo by Bill Love/Blue Chameleon
Ventures 2005.
CC BY SA 3.0
Another time my mom was helping a neighboring Peace Corps worker take her clothes off the line without realizing that a black mamba had entangled itself inside the clothes! After putting the basket in the bedroom the snake slithered out.  When my mom picked up a 'whipper' (a hand held grass cutting tool) to take care of this snake it lunged at her! Black mambas are very aggressive. Fortunately after she and the PC worker fled the house yelling, two Liberian men offered to help take care of the problem. They finished off the mamba and then told my mom that they were very fortunate because this was a bad snake. One bite and you die in 5 minutes.

My personal encounter with a mamba was when I was down by a swamp rice farm project and was busy walking about. I grew tired and decided to lean against a palm oil tree. As I was about to put my hand on the tree I felt a sudden 'inner warning' almost like an audible voice. I moved my hand back and right where I was about to place my hand was a green snake poking his head out from behind a pruned palm branch! It was sticking its tongue out at me. Whether it was a green mamba or just a tree snake I do not know, however mambas do like palm oil trees. Whatever it was I'm glad I didn't get any closer!

python sebae
Python constricting a pregnant goat in Zimbabwe.
Mango Atchar derivative work

Called a 'boy ee stracker' (boa constrictor) in colloquial Liberian English this snake's scientific name is python sebae. These snakes can get huge! I've heard many interesting stories about these guys including a python worship site at a sacred waterfall visited by Graham Greene in 1930's. 

My own personal python story involves our Liberian friends who worked for LAMCO (now ArcelMittall) in Buchanan. They lived just outside of the LAMCO compounds in a fairly forested area. One day their dog went missing. For whatever reason, a 'boa constrictor' was suspected and the people searched the bush with their cutlasses until it was located. After cutting open the python the family dog was found inside! They estimated the length of this snake to be 22 feet! These snakes are becoming less common due to the fact that they are hunted for their meat, but are still present in the deep bush.

(Naja haje, melanoleuca & nigricollis; & the Psuedohaje nigra)
Black Spitting Cobra
by Luca Boldrini
CCA 2.0 Generic

My cobra encounter will be with me forever. I was trying out my new 'cutlass' (machete) and was at the trailhead of a trail that led to a swamp around Christian High School in Buchanan. As I walked toward the trail, with my brother behind me, I stepped on a pile of dried palm branches. Little did I know that a cobra was coiled beneath! My best guess is that it was a Black Spitting Cobra (Naja nigricollis). 

The cobra shot up and hooded right in front of me and swayed back and forth. I simply screamed like a little girl. Then it quickly darted past me to my right. Before I could turn around and warn my brother I heard him make the same yelping sound. The cobra coiled itself right in front of my brother and then using its body like a spring it actually jumped up into the tree right in front of us! 

So, 'yes' I believe in guardian angels and from then on one of favorite verses has been Psalms 91:13 "You shall tread on the lion and the cobra...", although I'm not interested in making this a habit! In 2011 I revisited the site where I had been spared a cobra attack and prayed a prayer of thanksgiving. 

Bitis gabonica, rhinocerus, & nasicornis
GabonViper fangs
by Brimac the 2nd
CCA 2.0 Generic

The bitis gabonica or Gabon Viper is known as a 'Cassava snake' in Liberia. They supposedly taste delicious, but one doesn't just go hunting for them as they are very toxic. 

In a sad story, my Liberian Ma Sarah lost one of her daughters in the bush while hiding from rebels during the Civil Wars. She lost her daughter to a 'cassava snake' bite :-(

Ma Sarah lost her daughter to a Gabon Viper while hiding in the jungle during
the Liberian Civil Wars. She was only 16.
RIP dear sister.

The bad thing about these snakes is that they are rather sluggish and not apt to skirt away when they hear something approach. They also camouflage themselves rather well. This all makes stepping on one a very real and possible threat.

Gabon Vipers can be very difficult to see!
by Tom Vickers
Public Domain

I could go on, but I think you get the idea... There are snakes in Liberia! 

Do you have any Liberian snake stories to share?


  1. My sister and I were born in Liberia. My dad worked for Firestone and we lived in Harbel. We moved back to Iowa, where my mom is from, in 1968. I believe my sister and I were walking home from school. My sister thought she had been bitten by a snake. She was rushed to our neighbors home where a snake bite kit was located. It turned out she had not been bitten by the snake. They figured she had seen the snake but actually was poked by a stick. Prior to working on the plantation, my father and mother traveled in the interior of Liberia doing research. My dad took pictures of everything. In one of the albums I have is a picture of a native Liberian with the head of a Black Mamba in his mouth.

  2. I worked on the Goodrich plantation 1975-1978. A hooded cobra got trapped in a corner of a cement walled outside garage. Even the natives stayed 15 feet away as it was spitting as its head was up. Many rocks were thrown, I joined them, until it was finally stunned and one native killed it with his bolo

  3. We lived just outside Monrovia and being new to Africa from the U.K., considered all snakes to be deadly and out to get us! I found a frog hopping frantically across our garden and to avoid it being harassed by our dogs, virtuously picked it up and strode over to the fence to put it back outside in the bush. I was confronted by a snake (giant size to me - I was only 11 years old!)standing up tall and staring at me. Froggie and I parted company and the three of us disappeared in different directions with my departure of course being the noisiest of all. We saw many snakes there and I even remember a road high up somewhere that was called Mamba Point!

  4. Me, I was born in the iron ore mining town of Bongmines. It seemed we were living side by side with snakes. There was the common ‘yard snake’ and ‘green snake’ which were all over the place. We had several mangoes trees before our apartment and two were so close to the house their branches hung over our porch. Many times a ‘green snake’ would fall from the tree and scatter everybody. I got bitten by one when I was about six and had to be rushed to the hospital. It was lucky not to be bitten the second time when I was in my teen. Snakes entered our house two times. One was a baby cassava snake. But here is the big one. I sometimes I wonder what the snake was doing. We have finished working in our garden near our house when my mother sat under our avocado tree to plait my little sister’s hair. I sat before them watching and talking. The little girl who was l about three said she saw a snake and my mother didn’t pay attention. I felt something crawling on my back but overlooked. That snake crawled up to my shoulder. My mother saw it a screamed. I knocked the snake off my shoulder. It was a small green snake. Bongmines was surrendered by forest, woodland, swarms and rubber plantations so besides snakes there were other wide life making their way to the town. One afternoon we were in the yard when one of the women screamed. And what did we saw coming? A big ‘guana’ running straight to our yard. I’m not sure now whether it was really an iguana. I think I was some a kind of monitor. The women and children ran inside while the men chased and killed the thing. And pythons are not only found in the deep bush. They are everywhere. Even here in Monrovia especially on the edges of the mangrove swarm. Last year my sister’s dog was killed by one. She lives close to the swam in Police Academy, Paynesville. What saddens me is that for Liberians, you got one thing to do with a snake – kill it.

    1. Amazing coincidence. About a couple of hours ago, I made an uncharacteristic Facebook comment (and infrequent Facebook appearance) about a multicolored (seemingly rainbow) snake in Bong Mines. I actually came online just now to check for imagery of the snake to find the name. I just happened upon this page, and was moving on when i happened to glance at this post of snakes in Bong Mines.
      The year was 1974 (I was only 4) and lived with my father in Bong Mines, Camp Waterfour (one of the earliest residential areas for expats). Our home was next to the mountains, one of which was maybe 50 meters away from our balcony. On this day, as I played beneath a gorgeous flowering tree in the front yard, a multi-colored serpent slithered on the lower branch above where I played. My father shot it. To think that the memory was recalled tonight, only for me to see a story of Bong Mines snakes. I grew up mostly in Bong Mines, but didn't encounter snakes more than twice or so, which is surprising as we usually lived near a lot of trees. I do know there where many snakes there as I heard stories; but am thinking that the presence of many children at play usually kept them away from us.

  5. Thanks for The Job.
    If You will allow Me, I would really love to see pictures according to sneak accordingly Rather than categorizing everything under one photo which confuses me on which snake photo is it.

    (Naja haje, melanoleuca & nigricollis; & the Psuedohaje nigra) which One of them carry the Photo please?

  6. Amazing stories, thank you all for sharing.
    I attended ACS at Old Sinkor Road back in the seventies and remember that behind one of the soccer goals there was a grassy patch. We always fetched the balls out of there when playing. One day a friend found a little black snake near the soccer pitch and showed it to our biology teacher (this friend had no fear of snakes). As a result, the teacher - Mr Tichy, RIP - together with some other local employees of the school pulled out well over 20 snakes from behind the goal.
    I had some personal experiences as well living out in Robertsfield: green mambas, cassava snakes, etc. I too strongly believe in guardian angels and mine was extremely busy back in the day. (I still miss Liberia though)

  7. Thank God.... As a child, I’ve walked on snakes few times.. Just be careful how and where you walk up interior.. The cassava snake/Gabon viper is not afraid of movements nor sounds, they can stay at a spot for days, waiting on prey, sometimes you can step on them, they won’t make a sound.. I wear my boots always when walking on trails..and if you can get a dog to walk with, that could save your life.. Gabon vipers don’t like dogs. They will charge at a dog in a heart beat..I usually walk with my best friend Rafi (pastas monkey) also, she will make funny sounds and climbs up on my shoulder when she senses danger, mainly snakes.. I love Liberia and won’t trade it for anywhere, I always leave an come right back..🤦🏾‍♂️

  8. Dont know if this page is still active and came across it by accident. Boy, this brought back a lot of memories - lived in Liberia for 9 years in the late 60's - early 70's. Lot's of snake encounters with green and black mambas. They seemed plentiful. Still amazed we were never bitten considering we played in the deeper grass and brush as kids. I remember the cassava snake - though we never saw one. Some familiar place names here too - Mamba Point (almost went over the cliff there in a car), Sinkor, & went to school at ACS.