Australia has no big game. Elephants, hippo’s or big cats can’t add that thrill of imminent danger when going bush – except the saltwater crocodile in the Top End of course. Sheer size and power don’t pose any threat but toxic venom does instead, subtly engineered for the smaller animals such as spiders, jellyfish and snakes. As far as the latter concerns, we had a magnificent encounter with a completely harmless, almost docile Carpet Python a few months back, but the real venomous and notoriously elusive species have been avoiding us so far. Until our last trip.
Driving on the corrugated road towards the gorges of Kalbarri National Park I was focused on spotting emus instead of snakes, as all at the sudden we spotted a curled shape in the corner of our eyes. On sunny days reptiles are a common feature anywhere near warm surfaces – mainly as roadkill unfortunately. But as dead animals typically show those faded colours, the glossy black skin of this one clearly contrasted with the soft yellow sand. As it must be alive we quickly reversed the car to have a better look. Close inspection learned it was a King Brown or Mulga snake (Pseudechis australis) – not brown in colour as it name suggests but black with a coppery green tinge. We also noticed some skin had come off its tail, more likely resulting from the sharp claws or beak of a raptor than from the tyres of a passing car – the latter would have killed it instantly.
To take a decent photo from the driver’s seat I had to change the camera lens. It must have taken less than 30 seconds but when I looked outside the window the snake was gone – the tracks in the sand indicated it had moved under the car. Not knowing the snake’s exact location I couldn’t move the vehicle without the risk of running it over so there was no other option than to look underneath the car. A King Brown can be rather temperamental when disturbed, ready to bite savagely in order to inject up to 150mg of highly toxic venom – an enormous quantity compared to the 10-20mg produced by the fearsome Tiger snake! Realising the risk I felt excited, stepped out quickly and peeked to find it dozing in the cool shadow. By the time we’d reversed and taken some pictures a couple of cars appeared in the rear view mirror. After making clear a snake was lying on the road both men got out of their cars – admittedly more determined than me – and approached the animal in order to chase it off the road. After lashing out furiously to one of them the animal chose the safest option and disappeared into the bush.