Deadly Jungle Rattlesnake

Intrepid wildlife expert and photographer Austin Stevens continues his daredevil adventures around the world. In this instalment, Austin travels to Mexico to catch a glimpse of the Tzabcan rattlesnake, a highly venomous beast once hailed as a god by the ancient Mayans. With the help of local guides and a shaman, he braves underground rivers and dense rainforest in search of his prey.

During his 25-year career, Austin Stevens has managed to photograph most of the world’s rattlesnake species. But there is one notoriously venomous rattler that he has yet to encounter – Mexico’s Tzabcan rattlesnake, an elusive creature once revered as a god by the ancient Mayans. Austin’s quest takes him to a remote village in the Yucatan peninsula, where a guide is primed to help him in his hunt for the snake. On arrival, the village chief speaks to him in a Mayan dialect rather than Spanish, emphasising the area’s links with the past. Another such link is established by the village’s medicine man, who demonstrates how to prepare a traditional snakebite antidote from local roots and plants.

Even with the help of the villagers, Austin’s early attempts to find the Tzabcan prove frustrating, hampered as they are by the heavy showers typical of the rainforest environment. Undaunted, Austin descends through a sink hole into an underground river system to seek his prey, heeding the legend which suggests that the Tzabcan rattlesnake guards the entrance to the ‘underworld’. The caverns are claustrophobic but the water is crystal clear, enabling Austin to spot a swimming serpent. This beautiful predator proves to be a boa constrictor, most likely on the hunt for bats.

By now, the ebullient herpetologist realises that he may be more successful if he strikes out on his own. The next morning, Austin plunges back into the rainforest to resume his search. An audience with a shaman convinces him that he is on the right track as he finally spots a Tzabcan. Unfortunately, this particular creature is roasting on the shaman’s fire prior to being crushed into a powder and used for medicinal purposes – another testament to the legendary power of the rattlesnake and the hold it exercises over the imagination of the locals.

Pressing on into the jungle, the search for the Tzabcan ultimately lures Austin to the aweinspiring remains of a Mayan temple. He knows that the heat of the morning sun could draw the elusive snake into the open and, sure enough, he catches sight of a fine specimen idly warming itself amid the ruins. However, safely extracting the snake for a closer look is no easy task. Anticipating retaliation from the potential killer –which can strike at a speed of 20 feet per second – Austin successfully manoeuvres the rattler into the open.

The snake seems surprisingly compliant, but to get a better look at its sheathed fangs means holding its head firmly and precisely to avoid attack. Austin is well aware that mishandling the creature now could result in disaster since one drop of venom from this highly toxic rattlesnake is sufficient to kill a human. But his experience of dealing with such tricky customers enables him to keep the snake under control. The search is over and Austin finally has the pictures he desires, illustrating the majesty of the legendary Tzabcan against the magical backdrop of a Mayan temple.

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