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creepy crawlies and other critters

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  pippa Sunday, 28 January 2007 18:48

creepy crawlies and other critters

An old adage goes as follows: 'What doesn't kill you will make you strong' and whether or not you buy into patronising stoicism is irrelevant in this case. One of the most contentious issues when entering the great outdoors are the little 6- or 8- or no-legged critters, many of them with venomous stings or bites - and equally as many completely harmless - that are part of the food chain.

Many visitors to wilderness areas don't seem to realise that the moment they voluntarily enter the bush they automatically also become part of the food chain - something most people do not necessarily cherish. One of the commonest questions asked as a guide - apart from, 'how far is it?' and, 'when will we be there?' - is the inquiry into the size, frequency and toxicity of our reptilian and arachnid life forms. And yes Namibia abounds with all sorts of snakes, scorpions, spiders, bugs, beetles and a myriad of slithering, sliding, crawling creatures. It's a sign of a healthy and well-matured eco-system, and in the case of the Namib Desert, an ancient and unique natural balance.

Ironically enough the automatic reaction from most city dwellers when coming across any of the aforementioned in their natural habitat is to squash it, maim it, poison it. In short, anything with more than 2 legs entering the personal safety and comfort sphere is send to a speedy death. Unfortunately the little creepy crawlies of the bush are magically attracted to people with creature phobias, often leading to a mass murder of completely harmless insects. It's probably similar to the Icarus complex of moths attracted to candles and fires.

Yet even poisonous visitors don't have to be killed merely because it was unfortunate enough to loose its direction and wander into your camp. A scorpion or snake can easily be scooped up in a suitable receptacle and carried some distance out of camp and be released again. The same goes for spiders and ticks. Unless something seriously threatens your immediate health and safety there is no need for excessive destruction of an already beleaguered ecological balance.

The flip side of this wanton decimation is people with the chronic urge to capture and collect creatures of all shapes and sizes, often just for the pleasure of inducing cold shivers in the on-lookers. Most creatures will not survive captivity unless scientifically monitored, in which case it serves the purpose of research and knowledge. Wild creatures generally don't make good pets, so they best left where they belong: in the wild!

Even well-meaning guides catching snakes or chameleons to demonstrate their bush savvy to their guests will subject their quarry to undo duress and trauma which can lead to the animal's demise. Many would-be or hobby collectors are unaware that the majority of our reptiles and other small creatures are protected by law. Thus, unless you actively pursue a research programme for a registered institution or have a collector's license you will be breaking the law and taken to task. On that note: Should you come across anybody in the bush 'collecting' snakes, tortoises or pangolins and find him/her evasive please report the incident in the nearest town's police or ranger station. Smuggling protected species is rife and the Protected Resources Unit of the Namibian Police is tasked specifically to combat the illegal trade in endangered and protected species.

On a concluding note - people who engage in catching poisonous animals in the bush hopefully also know what they are doing when things go awry and they get bitten. Cyto- and Neurotoxic snake or scorpion bites in the bush far from modern medical treatment can be fatal. Caution and a little respect are always advised when encountering creatures in their natural habitat. After all it's their home. Ignoring this fact of life could lead you through a seriously steep learning curve, as was the case with an American tourist recently who was gored to death because he wanted a close-up photograph of him and an Oryx. Well-known naturalist from the Kavango Region, Mark Paxton of Shamvura, was luckier. He was bitten by a black mamba and lived to tell the tale - how, nobody knows.

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