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Gweru snake keeper killed by cobra

A Gweru man who had an affinity for snakes died on Monday after he was bitten by a banded cobra which he had caught at a neighbour’s house in Brankhurst suburb of his hometown.

Fayaz Motala
Fayaz Motala

Fayaz Motala’s death came the day after his 31st birthday. Parks and Wildlife Management Authority through its provincial warden confirmed the cause of death.

“Yes he was bitten by a banded cobra. We call upon members of the public to exercise caution when they dealing with snakes,” he said.

According to his sister Feroza, Fayaz died around 1 pm less than an hour after being bitten.

“It’s true that we have lost our only brother in the family untimely after he was bitten by a cobra on Monday. In exactly 45 minutes of the incident he passed away,” she said.

Fayaz hit the headlines in 2007 after removing a snake from a Gweru’s resident’s car. The snake had evaded National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority officers for three days.

Feroza said Fayaz was called in by a neighbour who had spotted the cobra at his house. She said after catching the snake Fayaz imprisoned it under an upended bucket.

“Later when he wanted to examine it, he opened the bucket and he was bitten on the hand in the process. Instead of taking anti-venom drugs he had in his pocket, he chased the snake for 10 minutes which allowed the snake venom to flow all over his body. He was supposed to relax instead,” said the grieving Feroza.

Fayaz told The Chronicle newspaper that he developed his passion for catching snakes and looking after them at the age of six when he came to the conclusion that ‘they were an endangered species’.

“I had my first experience at the age of six when I caught a snake. It was a harmless one though. That is when I really developed an interest. At the age of 10, I started to study their feeding habits and living conditions.

“I caught my first dangerous snake at the age of 13. It was a snouted cobra. It became the greatest moment for my life. My mother was totally against this. I even carried snakes to school and teachers used to punish me. This did not stop me from catching them. I am now a self-trained snake handler.”

Feroza said her brother was a community-minded citizen who never failed to answer a call to ensure harmony between Gweru human residents and snakes.

“My brother was a conservationist who was against the killing of snakes. He would transfer them to Kwekwe Snake Park where they would be taken care of,” she reminisced.

A local man, a Mr Hussein at the time Fayaz was interviewed by The Chronicle said he appreciated the services rendered by Mr Motala after he had problems with puff adders and cobras on his plot in Clonsilla.

“I was shocked at first when I heard about his skill of catching snakes, because its something unusual. Some think its associated with wrong rituals. But it is all about courage and skill. Growing up in the rural areas we were told to kill a snake whenever we saw it, in the forest or home. This young man has caught many snakes at my plot; taking them to protected places such as Kwekwe Snake Park or in the forest. Each time I see a snake I call him. I appreciate conservation since some species are now rare to see,” he said.

Now the community that he served so well is mourning Fayaz.

“He had opened a social media page for wild life management. On his Facebook profile birthday messages turned from wishes to condolences,” she said.

Paul Teasdale of the Zimbabwe Snake Handlers Association is one of the people who posted on Fayaz’s wall:

“It is with great sadness that we hear of the passing of one of Zimbabwe Snake Handlers. Fayaz Motola was based in Gweru where he worked extremely hard to conserve the reptile fauna around him.

He went out of his way to educate and inform people about the animals that he loved so dearly. Fayaz’s dedication was inspirational. He was taken too soon. We would like to convey our deepest sympathies to his family and friends. The world has lost a great ambassador and gentleman,” wrote Teasdale.

Another friend Daniel Van Tonder had this to say: “We’ve lost a good friend and a man with an unrivalled passion for his work with snakes. This being before we realized our dream. I will continue our work my friend. You are a hero to us all and you went doing what you love. We’ll miss you. Keep your spirit high. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.”

Over a hundred people from around Zimbabwe died from snake bites last year, a figure that the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare has become concerned about.

According to the World Health Organisation map of global snake bites fatalities over the past few years Zimbabwe falls in the second worst category of 101 to 1000 deaths a year. Topping the list is India where over 46 000 people succumb to snake bites each year. Bangladesh loses about 6000 people to fatal snake bites in the same period.

Recent evidence shows that hundreds of thousands of individuals are dying every year as a result of encounters with cobras, vipers or kraits.

It is estimated that a resurgence of the scourge of snakebites in Africa and Asia could soon account for a quarter of million deaths every year. In the past, deaths from snakebites have been poorly reported and the extent of the crisis underestimated.

In developing countries struggling to cope with non-communicable diseases, HIV, malaria, tuberculosis and other diseases, the problem posed by growing numbers of bites by venomous snakes is particularly unwelcome.

The United Nations has described snakebites as “a neglected threat to public health”. B Metro/Chronicle/The Guardian