ASI Newsletter - February 2019 


The Juvenile Rinkhals Jumble

During January we saw a large number of baby Rinkhals (Hemachatus haemachatus) sightings, especially in the Highveld. Female Rinkhals give birth to live young and bear around 20-30 babies in late summer. These babies are tiny and measure around 16 - 20 cm at birth. The young snakes are independent as soon as they are born and disperse in all directions to find food and shelter. These babies are venomous and can spit their venom from the moment they are born.

Rinkhals are generalist hunters but are especially fond of toads, frequenting vleis in grassland areas as well as other water bodies like dams and fish ponds. In South Africa, Rinkhals are found in grasslands from Southern Gauteng reaching up into Mpumalanga to about Lydenberg and then south into the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, the grasslands of the Transkei, and then they move into fynbos in the Western Cape with a population up near Sutherland in the karoo.

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Rinkhals are decent sized snakes – reaching about 1.5 meters in length – although the majority of Rinkhals encountered are around 60 cm to 1 m long. In Gauteng these snakes are normally shades of black, and greyer in the Mpumalanga grasslands – often with flecks of black. In the KZN Midlands, the Rinkhals start becoming banded with yellow and black crossbars down the back. In the Eastern Cape through to the Western Cape they are also banded with yellow or orange and black to brown. The keeled scales give them a rough appearance, unlike the reflective scales of cobras.

A lovely banded Rinkhals from the Eastern Cape.

The throat region is the Rinkhals’ namesake; Ring neck. Rinkhals have a shiny black belly with white cross bars on the throat. Occasionally, pitch black individuals are found with no cross bars on the throat. These pitch-black animals have been found around Bloemfontein and Grahamstown.

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Adult Rinkhals are quite easy to identify, based on the characteristics mentioned above, and many people on the Highveld have grown up knowing about these snakes, as they often frequent smallholdings and gardens. However, the juveniles can be somewhat tricky to identify if you are not familiar with them. Over the last month we have seen numerous arguments on social media about identifying juvenile Rinkhals, and many people seem to be confused on the matter.

A comparison of the juveniles of three common Cobra species and the Rinkhals.

This confusion seems mainly due to the similarity in appearance of juvenile Rinkhals and juvenile Snouted Cobras (Naja annulifera). Juvenile Rinkhals are seldom black like the adults and are usually a light grey or brown, and often with darker flecks. Juveniles on the Highveld frequently have white or lighter faces and not the dark shiny black face of an adult. There is often black between the scales on the face of juvenile Rinkhals and they have larger eyes in comparison to young Snouted Cobras. While the Rinkhals generally have black bellies with white bars across the belly, the other three Cobra species (Snouted Cobra, Cape Cobra and Mozambique Spitting Cobras) that are sometimes confused with young Rinkhals all have pale or light bellies with dark cross bars on the throat.

Features to look out for in young Rinkhals:

  • Usually pale grey to brown with darker flecks
  • Often has a lighter face and black between the scales
  • White bars on a black belly
  • Short, rounded head
  • Belly is centred with black and has light edges
  • Black and white throat is visible from the side when the snake is slithering

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We offer snake handling courses to both corporate clients and members of the public who require training on how to safely remove and relocate venomous snakes. Our courses are presented by world renowned herpetologist and author Johan Marais and are FGASA endorsed and accredited with the HPCSA. More information can be found on the website or our free ASI Snakes app.

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Snake Awareness, First Aid for Snakebite and Venomous Snake Handling Course

Venue: Southern Cross School, Hoedspruit

Date: Saturday 16 February 2019

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Snake Awareness, First Aid for Snakebite and Venomous Snake Handling Course

Venue: McGregor Museum, Kimberley

Date: Saturday 23 February 2019

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Snake Awareness, First Aid for Snakebite and Venomous Snake Handling Course

Venue: Cradle Moon Lakeside Lodge, Muldersdrift

Date: Saturday 02 March 2019

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Snake Awareness, First Aid for Snakebite and Venomous Snake Handling Course

Venue: PheZulu Safari Park, Assagay, KZN

Date: Saturday 16 March 2019

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Johan Marais is the author of various books on reptiles including the best-seller A Complete Guide to Snakes of Southern Africa. He is a popular public speaker and offers a variety of courses including Snake AwarenessScorpion Awareness and Venomous Snake Handling. Johan is accredited by the International Society of Zoological Sciences (ISZS) and is a Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA) and Travel Doctor-approved service provider. His courses are also accredited by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA). Johan is a qualified instructor for the Emergency Care & Safety Institute, in Oxygen Administration and Wilderness First Aid.












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