Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Snake Charmers of Morocco - Egyptian Cobras and Puff Adders

I love snakes and was excited to see the snake charmers that I knew would be in the Jemaa el fna in Marrakech. With a little bit of looking before-hand, I could tell that most of the snake charmers used puff adders and Egyptian cobras. 

We found our first snake charmers in a square in Meknes, outside of Fez. They had a puff adder and some other snakes and no cobras. I asked Hassan, our guide, about the cost of going close and taking some pictures and he told me that the equivalent of about $.50 would be sufficient. I got a few pictures and gave them approximately $.50 and they seemed disappointed, but were not aggressive in seeking more. 
Puff adder on a carpet in Meknes.
The puff adder is found extensively in Africa. It may be the most common and widespread snake in all of Africa, including all of South Africa, East Africa, much of central Africa, coast to coast, and a small swath of southern Morocco. It causes the most snake bite fatalities in Africa because it is common in highly populated areas, has a wide distribution and can be aggressive. They average about 40 inches in length and are very stout. The pattern on the snake varies geographically. It is sluggish, but apparently can move quite rapidly. They strike suddenly and at high speed, with strong impact and with long fangs that penetrate deeply. They do well in captivity, but are bad-tempered, and often hiss and puff when approached. Death probably occurs in less than 10% of untreated cases. 
Two puff adders in Marrakech.
This snake charmer holds up a puff adder in Marrakech.
When we got to Jemaa el fna in Marrakech it was a whole different story. There were a number of snake charmer acts going on and they typically involved several puff adders, several cobras and perhaps some other non-poisonous snakes. 
This snake charmer blows his flute-like instrument and has several cobras in front of him, as well as a couple of puff adders. The man in yellow and the man in white and red are assisting him. 
The Egyptian cobra is native to Africa and has a much smaller distribution. It is found in much of North Africa, north of the Sahara, and in the savannas, including those found in West Africa, portions of Kenya and Tanzania and the Congo Basin.  The neck has cervical ribs that can expand to form a hood. Length varies greatly depending on subspecies and geographic location. The average length is 3.3 to 6.6 feet and can get to almost 10 feet. Color varies widely, but most are some shade of brown. Specimens from northwestern Morocco are almost entirely black. 
A puff adder and cobra next to each other. The cobra's neck is not puffed out into a hood here. 
I decided to wade in on one group and these snake charmers were very, very aggressive. They grabbed my camera to take pictures and put non-poisonous snakes around our necks. I wanted to hold a puff adder with their help but was refused. One of the men held one up so that I could take pictures. I gave them the equivalent of $5.00 at the end and had several of them all over me, demanding I pay them the equivalent of $50.00. They were shouting. I finally pulled the $5.00 back and gave them $15.00 and they were screaming at me that they wanted $50.00. We just walked away as they continued to scream and yell. That was rather unpleasant and after that we avoided them. 
They took picture of us facing two cobras.

This snake charmer stares down a cobra.
As we watched the snake charmers in the square from a vantage point on a nearby building, we could hear the constant sound of the little flute like instrument they play, apparently called a pungi (at least in India). They pretend to hypnotize the cobras by playing the instrument. I heard and have read that many of the snakes have had their fangs removed and some have their mouths sewed shut. The cobras were certainly more entertaining, as they were usually partially erect with their hoods out. The puff adders hardly moved, but I was still really taken with the puff adders. 
Judy holding two small non-venomous snakes. 


  1. What a weird tradition! Who knew snake charmers are more aggressive than their snakes?

    Judy, I like your necklaces. You could cause quite a stir bringing some home to wear.

  2. Yeah, I have friends that can't even look at PICTURES of snakes, much less be in the same room with real ones. Bob, you married the right girl.

  3. I love snakes too. I'm interested in learning about the different genera and species.

  4. Great write-up. There's just one correction I would make, and it sounds petty, but is incredibly important if medical help is needed.

    Snakes, scorpions, spiders, and any animal with stingers are venomous..defined as animals that actively injects venom into a victim. The venom can then target the system for which it was made for. There is hemotoxin, neurotoxin and another I can't recall.

    Venom is not a poison, either. It can't do general damage like a poison. It has to be injected to work. A person can drink it without any reaction because it isn't designed to to work on intestinal organs.

    Poison is a substance that can be found on various amphibians and insects. It often coats the animal's body in order to make it less less palatable to predators. Most of the time and is not intended to kill, though it can. The poison needs to be ingested bye touching your mouth are mucous membranes after hand line or being absorbed into your skin. And of course, was it poisonous substances can also be swallowed. Unlike venom, this will affect a person. Something like licking toads and frogs for a high would be one example.

    It can be boiled down to this, if it bites you and you die it's venomous. If you bite it and you die, it's poisonous.

    Inaccurately describing whether it's poison or venom can confuse some emergency personnel because they don't receive much training in snake bites. It also helps to know the correct terminology if you are talking to somebody who breeds, sells, keeps, or works in the field of herpetology etc.
    because it irritates the bejesus out of them.