The Gaboon Adder must surely rate as one of the best camouflaged, if not one of the most beautiful, snakes in South Africa. These large vipers may grow to 2m in length (usually up to 1.3m in our part of the world) and weigh up to 8kg. It boasts the longest fangs of any venomous snake, up to 5cm long, and its venom is produced in large quantities – less than a quarter of a dose is sufficient to kill an adult human. The venom is cytotoxic and rapidly cause swelling, intense pain and shock and may lead to tissue death and amputation, difficulty breathing and heart failure if treatment with anti-venom is not quickly commenced. Thankfully they’re surprisingly placid and bites to humans are very rare.
Gaboon Adders inhabit forests and other similarly moist and densely vegetated habitats, where they feed on a wide range of vertebrate prey up to the size of rabbits. They are mainly nocturnal hunters, but like to bask in the sun on the edge of clearings in the forest during the day. Females are gravid for up to a year after mating, producing up to 40 live young, usually in the summer months.
In South Africa the Gaboon Adder is restricted to a small coastal strip stretching from St. Lucia Estuary to the Mozambique border – almost all of its natural range in this country is therefore included in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. They have also been introduced to the Umlalazi Nature Reserve to the south. Outside of South Africa, Gaboon Adders are found along the forested mountain border of Zimbabwe and Mozambique, coastal Tanzania, and widely through Africa’s equatorial reaches from Zambia in the south to Nigeria in the west and to Uganda and South Sudan in the east. The IUCN lists it as vulnerable with a declining population over most of its range. and though the local population is estimated to be stable at between 2,000 and 3,500 in the wild it is still considered to be “near threatened”.