June 11th was my first time handling a mamba, and it was quite an exciting day! First I watched and assisted while Sanda and Ferry caught & removed two black mambas with bad sheds from their cages, to get the procedure down. Then, Sanda told me it was my turn to do it on a green mamba! She picked a smaller one of about 3-4 feet that was a relatively new arrival because she said that the littler ones are more challenging due to a more wiry and aggressive nature, and they haven't had time to tame down. Then she said, "Okay, you're in charge now. If you tell us to run, we run. If anything happens while you are working with the snake then as the handler you are the one who is going to get bit." It was sobering but after waiting so long training alongside Ferry I knew it was time to suck it up and do what I came here to learn! I was quite nervous but felt as ready as I could ever be. Sanda was in charge of opening the door, I was in charge of getting the snake, and Ferry was my #2 guy on backup with his tongs in case anything went wrong. His job was also to place his tongs behind mine once I had the snake out of the cage and on the ground, and hold the snake with his tongs so that I could release mine and move them up to the neck of the snake. Sanda opened the door, I very carefully peered in to find my snake, mindful at all times of the location of second mamba in the cage, and carefully picked it up with my tongs about 1/3 of the way down the body. I pulled it out of the cage, grabbed its tail in my left hand, carried it into the open and brought it to the ground. Ferry put his tongs a few inches behind mine down the body to hold it in place, I moved to the other side of the snake so I could get it with my right hand, and slid my tongs in behind it's head. Bad placement, the snake was squirming and I didn't like the hold so I released it and made a 2nd attempt (Sanda and Ferry have told me many times it's better to try a few times for a good position to take the snake than to risk all on a bad hold for the sake of time or convenience). I carefully tonged it just at the base of the head, bent down, grabbed it behind the head with my right hand and worked my fingers up to the start of the head, with my thumb on top at the base of the jaws and my fingers curled underneath. The snake was squirming and twisting to try and bite but my grip was good, I released the tongs, picked up the snake, held it for a bit, then got ready to put it back. Because mambas are so fast and such good climbers the release can be the trickiest part, so I did as I was taught and gently threw the snake back into the cage, to prevent it from hitting the bottom and shooting right back up to deliver a bite. Snake free, door shut, hands unbitten!!! Sanda said well done and we talked for a few more minutes about procedure and handling stuff, and that was that! What an incredible rush though! My hands were shaking slightly from the excitement but I was so relieved/excited that my first time taking a deadly snake behind the head, and a mamba nonetheless, went off without a hitch! Sanda told me that the hardest part is doing the first one and that from now on what I'm going to do is to try and get lots of experience and find my own methods and what works well for me. I'm really honored though as she had told me they don't like to train people how to handle because it's too risky and they don’t want to have to deal with people who just want do it for the excitement, but that she knows I am going to be working with venomous snakes all my life as a herpetologist and I need to know these things. So all in all an exciting day I've been looking forwards to with some trepidation for a long time, now that the first one is done it's all about getting experience.
Pictures of mamba handling attached at the facebook link below, not from the first time I did it but from the work I have been doing with them over the last few days. I'm getting quite comfortable with the snakes and the technique now! The pictures demonstrate the method I wrote about above.