Found in the company of the big names such as the mamba, cobra and puffadder, the boomslang is one of the most underrated snakes in Southern Africa. It was in fact originally thought to be harmless, along with the other members of its kin in the Colubrida family.
Colubridae comprise 70% of snake species on earth and are considered a motley crew of snakes that do not belong to other more specifically defined snake families. Most of them are harmless to humans with the exception of the twig snake and the boomslang, as they envenomate their prey by chewing rather than by injection, have weak venom, and small venom glands.
The boomslang in particular is able to deliver a fatal bite which belies its peaceful nature. The venom is very slow-acting and has little effect for up to four hours, giving the victim ample time to receive treatment, which should be administered as soon as possible. Most of the fatalities related to boomslang bites are caused by a false sense of security after the bite appears to have no immediate effect.
The boomslang is an attractive creature as far as snakes go, with a slender appearance and large doe-like eyes, and as long as you take a 'look and don't touch' approach it will not harm you.
Spotting one of these snakes in the wild is a rare privilege as they are extremely wary of anything that is too large to eat and capable of a swift getaway when threatened. Their prey species include chameleons, eggs, small mammals, birds and frogs. When stalking their next meal they pause every so often and assume a waving motion which resembles that of a twig in a slight breeze, until they are within striking distance.
They are most often found in trees with resident colonies of weavers where they have easy access to their favourite foods, and have been known to curl up in disused weaver nests in cold weather. They spend most of their time in trees but will descend to the ground and even cross water in pursuit of food, always returning to the branches to consume their prize.
Long and slender, the boomslang can grow up to 2m in length. While the males are usually an attractive lime green or mottled green and black in colour, the females are a dowdy brown, making them difficult to detect among the branches and leaves of their habitat.
Ask your game ranger to point out any trees which they know to be home to these elusive snakes, and see if you are quick enough to spot one before it sees you.