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Wednesday, August 3 at 8 p.m. – Nature: Black Mamba

(Rochester, NY) – The black mamba is a snake with a notorious reputation for being fast, furious, and deadly. It can grow to 13 feet and is strong enough to raise a third of its body above the ground and look a person in the eye. Its bite is known as the kiss of death — without treatment, the mortality rate is 100 percent.  In the hot, humid climate of Swaziland in southern Africa, black mambas thrive. They are naturally attracted to the vast sugar cane plantations, but they also can be found in homes, gardens, schools, and hotel rooms, sometimes with tragic results. Snake bites in Africa are reaching epidemic proportions. The traditional response is to kill them before they can kill; failing that, to rely on traditional medicine for a cure — always a hopeless option. But two individuals are making an effort to address the crisis in Swaziland and to save both snake and human lives. Nature tracks their progress in Black Mamba, airing Tuesday, August 3 at 8 p.m. on WXXI-TV/HD (DT21.1/cable 1011 and 11). Academy Award-winning actor F. Murray Abraham narrates.

Litschka-Koen initially became interested in black mambas after one of her sons chose snakes as a school project. Soon after, she found herself doing research and ultimately enrolling in handling and identification courses; her involvement grew from there. Enlisting her husband, Clifton, in her efforts, Litschka-Koen began responding to emergency calls from locals, removing and rescuing snakes. Each call-out is a daunting proposition, even for this intrepid and experienced couple. After a successful rescue, on-site demonstrations help assuage some of the Swazis’ fears about the mambas that will always live among them. Litschka-Koen also founded a reptile park where some of her rescued snakes could be released and where people could learn more about snakes, even how to handle some of them safely.

Locals always wanted to know if the rescued snakes would return, and that led to a plan. Joining forces with an expert from Johannesburg, the Litschka-Koens began a research project to track rescued black mambas released into the wild. They hoped to gain new insights that might help them in their work and to learn the answer to the question the locals wanted to know. The study was the first of its kind. The mambas were radio-tracked, 24/7, for weeks, and their behavior studied, revealing important information about the snakes.

However, none of it was learned soon enough to help a local family who lost a daughter to a black mamba’s bite after she accidentally stepped on it while playing hide and seek. The traditional healer was unable to help, and the local hospital didn’t have the anti-venom to save her.

There is some hope for the future. The Litschka-Koens’ work has now been recognized by Swaziland’s King Mswati III, who has donated land for a new reserve and for a clinic specializing in the treatment of snake-bites. It will be the first of its kind in Swaziland.  

Photo Caption: Philane, who staffs the reptile park oversaw by Thea and Clifton Litschka-Koen, educates and entertains local communities about the mamba in Nature: Black Mamba.

Credit: Courtesy of ©2009 WNET.ORG Properties LLC and Tigress Productions Limited



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