How to Recognise a Green or Black Mamba

How to Recognise a Green or Black Mamba

I have now had a close encounter with 2 dangerous snakes whilst in Sierra Leone. Learning how to recognise a Green or Black Mamba and knowing how to treat a bite victim has been critical.

(Related: Travelling through Sierra Leone Jungle on Motorbikes)

How to Recognise a Green or Black Mamba

The first was a green mamba, which I saw in 2015 whilst in a canoe and it popped up and swam alongside us a few metres away. The local I was with was terrified of snakes and had a real panic. I understood why when he told me of the number of people that die from bites off snakes such as this every year in the bush. He also recalls the wailing of children and their mothers during the civil war who got bitten as they fled through the bush to Guinea.

Snake Encounters

The second snake I saw was in a similar area but riding on a motor bike through the bush, with the same local driving only a year later.

This time a black mamba shot out right in front of the bike across the path, so close we nearly ran over its tail. Thank god we did not as a bite from this snake would have devastating consequences.

Green Mamba

Dendroaspis angusticeps- Creative Commons photo author: Danleo~commonswiki

Dendroaspis angusticeps- Creative Commons photo author: Danleo~commonswiki

The green mamba was a fluorescent like green colour, and held its head high above the water as it swam, a bit like Cobras do when they are ready to attack.

It then slid into a tree on the river bank, and on closer inspection you could see all the holes the snakes must use to go in and out of for food and shelter.


Black Mamba

Dendroaspis polylepis- danleo-commonswiki

Dendroaspis polylepis- danleo-commonswiki

The black mamba, was a more brown and grey colour, a few feet long- it is only called black due to the distinctive mark in its mouth when it opens ready to attack. It raced across the track so I only briefly saw it amongst the crazed and panicked beeping of my local friend driving.

Medical Stuff

The venom of either of these snakes attacks the nervous system as it is neurotoxic, and will cause a human to collapse within 45 minutes, and brings death within a few hours.

Several children die each year as a result of snake bites and lack of medical aid nearby in this region. One of the projects I did out there during the Ebola crisis was teach local school children and teachers- just what to do if someone gets bitten by a snake.

In short- don’t disturb the bite, and don’t panic.

Sit the victim down, and try to calm them. Wrap the bite relatively tightly with a bandage or cloth away from the heart, and get the victim to anti-venom immediately- ideally by carrying them however you can. Panic or exercise makes the heart beat faster and will pump blood around the body quicker and with this blood- the snakes deadly venom. Disturbing the bite can make the venom get into the tissues more quickly, so don’t believe wives tales of sucking or cutting it out. Even washing it can speed the venom’s absorption.

If it is possible to identify the type of snake, make a record of what species it is or what it looks like. Do not try to catch the snake or go near it- you could yourself get bitten, and then you are another casualty.

Don’t Provoke

We were around 5 hours from the nearest hospital each time I saw the mambas. A bite out there would have been catastrophic. But snakes only attack if provoked, so moral of the story is- don’t provoke a mamba, green or black, for it might just be the last thing you do.

About the Author


CharlieSR – Author – former Military – Doctor

Has operated in many countries across the world and consequently has experience navigating hostile conditions.

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