The most venomous snakes in South Africa

Posted by Taylah Strauss on 21 October 2021

If you are an avid outdoor enthusiast, then you know that the possibility of encountering a snake is very real. Knowledge of the snakes in the area you are travelling in is key. Take a look at some of the most venomous snakes in South Africa, and tips on what to do if you or someone else gets bitten.

Cape Cobra

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Cape cobras can be red, brown, yellow, or black and take up residence throughout the Western Cape province, Free State, and South Western regions of the Eastern Cape. These snakes will often leave their dry bushy resting place and wander into human habitations. According to Siyabona Africa, their venom is neurotoxic, meaning that the respiratory functions will be attacked. This will prove fatal if anti-venom is not administered quickly. In the case of a bite, a person needs immediate medical treatment. Apply pressure to the wound to slow the progression of the venom. If you encounter this snake, remain absolutely still and allow the snake to pass.

Puff Adder

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Puff adders are the most expansive snakes in the African continent with their residence spanning from the Southern Cape to the Sahara. These snakes are considered dangerous because they do not move out of your way. Fatalities from puff adders are due to the cytotoxic and haemotoxic properties of their venom. Like Cape cobras, they are diurnal creatures. The best thing to do if you encounter this snake is to move out of its way. Apply pressure to the wound if bitten and keep the affected limb below the heart whilst seeking immediate medical attention.

Black Mamba

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Known as Africa’s largest venomous snake, black mambas call the North West, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, and KwaZulu-Natal provinces their home. Other than their impressive size, they are also known as one of the fastest snakes to roam the earth. They vary in olive to black tones, and can be found in bushes, grass, and even trees. Similar to the Cape cobra, their venom has powerful neurotoxins, and other than seeking immediate medical treatment, the best you can do is stay calm.

Mozambique Spitting Cobra

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

This snake mostly inhabits northern areas of South Africa, and can have brown to pink hues. They attack by spraying their venom, which can travel up to three meters with remarkable precision. If you encounter this snake, back away slowly. If you get attacked, seek immediate medical attention. In the event that the venom reaches your eyes, rinse thoroughly with clean water for twenty minutes.


Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Contrary to the other snakes listed above, rinkhals are nocturnal creatures and prefer wet grasslands. They are found in the Southern Cape, Eastern Cape, Free State and KwaZulu-Natal. These brown-to-black snakes have the same method of attack as the Mozambique spitting cobra, and thus the treatment is the same. If you are bitten, seek medical attention and apply pressure. Fortunately, their bites are rarely fatal.

Additional Tips

Other than the tips specific to the snakes listed above, here are some general tips that apply to all snake bites.

  • If bitten on upper or lower extremities, remove tight clothing and rings.
  • Immobilise the victim, as movement encourages the systemic spread of the venom.
  • Do not apply tourniquets or tight bandages; only apply pressure bandages when specifically indicated.
  • Transport the victim quickly to a hospital.

Picture: Theo Busschau

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