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NATURE: Black Mamba

Airs Wednesday, June 26, 2013 at 8 p.m. & Sunday, June 30 at 2 p.m. on KPBS TV

Philane, who staffs the reptile park overseen by Thea and Clifton Litschka-Ko...

Credit: Andrew Yarme/© Tigress Productions

Above: Philane, who staffs the reptile park overseen by Thea and Clifton Litschka-Koen, educates local communities about the mamba as he entertains them.

In "Black Mamba," NATURE reveals one of Africa’s most dangerous and feared snakes, known for being aggressive when disturbed. Rearing up with its head four feet above the ground, it strikes with deadly precision, delivering venom that is packed with three different kinds of toxins 10 times more deadly than needed to kill an adult human. Without treatment, the mortality rate is 100 percent.

The Snake Charmers

View photos of Thea Litschka-Koen and her husband, Clifton, as they try to save lives and change attitudes about the black mamba, Africa’s deadliest snake.

Until now, little has been known about the black mamba’s natural behavior in the wild because, in Africa, most people kill a black mamba on sight and feel lucky to have done so.

But in the tiny country of Swaziland in southern Africa, a team of snake handlers has an entirely different “take” on these creatures and hopes their six-week study will change public perception of what they feel is the world’s most misunderstood snake.

Swaziland resident Clifton Litschka-Koen doesn’t really care for snakes, but his wife, Thea, is crazy about them. With her husband’s sometimes reluctant help, she has endeavored to change attitudes about black mambas and other snakes found in the area.

In addition to starting the nation’s only reptile park, devoted to educating the public and providing a refuge for the animals, the two have become the region’s go-to experts for safe, humane snake removal from homes, schools, resorts and workplaces.

In the course of catching and relocating any number of snakes per day, Thea and Clifton give impromptu lessons about the snakes, covering fact and fiction, and do their best to prevent any unnecessary casualties – human or reptile.

In addition to their other efforts, Thea and Clifton developed a program designed to track black mambas in the wild for the first time and to gain new insights into their behavior.

With the help of a snake expert from Johannesburg, they were able to surgically insert radio transmitters in a number of captured black mambas, allowing them to follow the snakes after their release.

If their research pays off, they may be able to show that their relocations are working, successfully removing snakes from residential areas for the long term, and thereby bringing some relief to the locals and some respite for the snakes.

This film premiered November 8, 2009.

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Video Excerpt: Nature: Black Mamba

In this video clip from NATURE "Black Mamba," Thea and Clifton respond to a call from a maid who spotted a six-and-a-half-foot black mamba inside a guestroom at a resort they manage. They want to remove it from the area — but first they have to find it.

Full Episode: Nature: Black Mamba

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Watch Black Mamba on PBS. See more from Nature.

The black mamba is one of Africa’s most dangerous and feared snakes. Most people would kill it on sight. But in the tiny country of Swaziland, one husband and wife team has taken a different approach to the mamba. They’ve initiated a study that they hope will change perceptions of what they feel is the world’s most misunderstood snake. This film premiered November 8, 2009.

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