Black mamba bite: Judge died before anti-venom could be administered

Cape Town Labour Court Judge Anton Steenkamp died before anti-venom could be administered after he was bitten by a black mamba while in a remote area in Zambia.

The African Snakebite Institute says while details of 57-year-old Steenkamp’s death are still unclear, it appears that he was several hours away from the nearest major town when the incident occurred on Monday.

“He died before anti-venom could be administered,” Johan Marais of the African Snakebite Institute said in a statement on Wednesday.

READ: Well-known Labour Court Judge dies after black mamba bite in Zambia

Marais added that it appeared Steenkamp had been bitten on his lower leg.

Steenkamp and his wife Catherine were on a tour through Africa when he was bitten by the highly venomous snake.

Marais said that the black mamba is by far the largest venomous snake in Africa, reaching close on four metres and is rated as one of the deadliest snakes in the world.

It is found throughout South Africa, including Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, the North West, Northern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

The snake also calls Mozambique and Swaziland home and can be found further north throughout much of Africa, reaching Senegal in the West, Marais said.

Marais said despite the snake’s reputation, it is by no means an aggressive snake and will avoid humans if given the choice.

“It never chases people – a rather popular myth. But if surprised or cornered it will bite readily and may even bite more than once,” Marais said.

The black mamba accounts for about half of the snake bite fatalities recorded in South Africa, with the Cape Cobra being the other culprit, he said.


The venom of a black mamba is potently neurotoxic, and the effects can be felt within minutes of a bite, Marais said.

Symptoms include the sensation of pins and needles on the victim’s lips, and they often speak of a metallic taste in the mouth followed by nausea, vomiting, a paralysed tongue resulting in slurred speech and excessive salivation.

“As the patient weakens the eyes become droopy, the pupils dilate, and the patient may sweat excessively. Breathing becomes progressively laboured and if untreated, results in death due to a lack of oxygen.”

What to do in the event of a bite

The most important thing to do after a person has gotten bitten by a black mamba is to get them to the nearest trauma unit, or if far away from a hospital, to meet an ambulance halfway.

“Paramedics can assist with artificial respiration or even ventilation of the patient, if they have the correct equipment. Once hospitalised, the patient will in all probability be ventilated while anti-venom is administered or obtained,” Marais said.

“From a first aid point of view, pressure immobilisation (wrapping the affected limb tightly with a pressure bandage – not a tourniquet) could delay the onset of symptoms, but a certain amount of skill and training is required to properly apply pressure immobilisation.”

“If the patient stops breathing, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation could be beneficial but for a relatively short period only.”

Marais added that the only treatment for serious black mamba bites is anti-venom.

“Our polyvalent anti-venom, manufactured by the South African Vaccine Producers in Johannesburg, is effective for bites from our mambas, cobras, the rinkhals, puff adder, and Gaboon Adder. In serious black mamba bites, patients receive anything from 12 – 20 vials of anti-venom.”

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