Rule #5 – Never scare animals

When out riding you should always take care to never scare animals, writes Meurant Botha. But this being Africa, you do have to ask who scares who?

It is pretty clear that this Rule of the Trail was designed with user interaction (bikes vs horses) and farm access in mind. As I pointed out in the Yield Appropriately article (September issue of Full Sus) horses are unpredictable so it’s best to come to a stop until the rider gives an indication that it is safe to pass. Many of our trails now access livestock zones, via cattle grids or fence ramps, so we need to take care not to startle animals when traversing pastures.  Apart from the odd Pamplona experience (Specialized riders in team kit are apparently prone here) we should be careful not to scare a lamb or calf and risk a rejection from the mother animal. But I guess here in South Africa and just across our borders it is more a case of mountain bikers being scared by animals…

What surprises me most is the fact that despite numerous snake interactions, no rider (that I know of) has suffered a bite. The speed at which we approach a slumbering adder or cobra has to be a recipe for disaster and many of us have had near misses at one stage or another. Thankfully snakes are not aggressive animals (I’ll touch on mambas later…).

As with anything, the risk of any incident is directly proportional to the volume of activity and as more and more people are riding singletracks there has to be an increased risk of snakebites. A close encounter with a snake is more likely while stopping for a Facebook photo or mid ride snack, rather than when riding. And my biggest fear is always the camouflaged puff adder which hides up to the last minute, whereas the cobra would have retreated long ago.


The development of trails through the sugarcane plantations of KZN and natural forest in Mpumalanga takes riders into mamba territory. Mambas are unpredictable and can be aggressive and, of course, particularly poisonous and what I hate most is that they can keep themselves occupied (green mamba) in the trees above your helmet. Depending on which resource you refer to a black mamba can, or can’t, move faster than a running human, but I’m not going to test whether they can or can’t.

Snake venoms are categorised as neurotoxic, cytotoxic, myotoxic or hemotoxic which basically just describes nicely what type of pain or problem you can expect. There is not enough space here to go into snakebite treatment but keep the following in mind:

• Know the number of your nearest poison centre (021 931 6129 for the 24hour unit at TygerbergHospital should be your first point of call).

•Always stay calm, an elevated heart rate is the killer as it spreads the venom quicker.

•Try to identify the snake.

•No sucking, compressing or other MacGyver moves unless you know exactly what bit you and are experienced.

•But most importantly, don’t get bitten.


Now that every second game farm is inviting you to come ride, the odds are pretty good that you can become the star of a YouTube clip. These clips prove time and time again that excited or startled antelope have no problem running straight towards riders. So it is always best to control your speed as the effect of a head-on collision with a wildebeest is obviously amplified when you are traveling at speed too. Again, animals with their young are super protective and will be very aggressive when cornered.

Creepy Crawlies

South Africa is also blessed with an abundance of small critters of which the arachnids are the most troublesome. Spider and scorpion bites or stings are rare, but spring and early summer are a very active time for our tick population. Many riders get struck down with tick bite fever, in the Cape Town fynbos region, every year. So it is very important to check yourself properly for ticks after a ride through close shrub as tick bite fever is not a fun experience. If you are aware of your surrounding and use common sense you should be able to co-exist with our animal friends without any issues.

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