I lie wide-eyed staring into the dark. Apprehension edges through me as I strain to catch a tell-tale sound.
Directly over my head an innocent rodent has just met its doom.
And I don't know why (or more precisely, whom).
For the last couple of months my nights have been haunted by the slaughter in my ceiling. The piercing shrieks of dying bats, mice and geckos shatter my dreams.
Somewhere in my roof lurks a Large Predatory Beast. And, so far, I've been too cowardly to find out what it is.
|Tomorrow's supper? An Egyptian slit-faced bat (Nycteris thebaica) hides out in my bathroom.|
While everyone's busy making New Year resolutions, I'm debating whether I should resolve to clamber up on my kitchen bench, clear away the cobwebs and poke my head up into the ceiling.
To look or not to look...
I know that as a wildlife enthusiast I should be bursting with curiosity and as a zoologist my scientific zeal should outweigh all other considerations. But I'm fairly certain The Beast is limb-free. And I do NOT like snakes. The tiny feet of mice and geckos hammer a noisy tattoo on my ceiling, and even visiting birds (shopping for nest sites) sound as if they're attending a tap-dance festival.
But when The Beast prowls, I hear nary a footfall.
Only one sound is detectable: a heavy, sliding slither. It's the sort of sound that, in the dead of night, conjures images of a hooded hunchback dragging his withered leg or a silent assassin gently shifting his kitbag.
I know you think I'm being paranoid. I'm mean lots of people have wildlife (even legless wildlife) living in the cosy space between ceiling and roof. But the problem is, only half my house has a proper ceiling. My lounge and kitchen are roofed with sagging sheets of thickened bubble-wrap, and each swayback strip - draped precariously over dangling wires – is bordered by big yawning gaps.
Call me wimpy, but I'm convinced that sooner or later - intentionally or otherwise – The Beast is going to drop down into my house.
Is it better, or worse, to know what's destined to land on your head?
The possible contenders are not encouraging. There are three nocturnal mammal-killers with a penchant for climbing: the snouted cobra, the African rock python and the brown house snake.
Snouted cobras scare the Hell out of me. They're the thugs of the cobra family. It isn't enough for them to tote a highly lethal neurotoxin, or to inject enough of it to kill ten humans. No, they also have to indulge in body-building. Why any cobra feels the need to attain boa-like proportions is beyond me, but when you're battling a snake phobia, it's just not nice.
|A captive snouted cobra showing off its glorious physique. |
Photo posted on Flickr by KBugler.
|My guest room with guest. African rock python (Python sebae).|
There is no doubt, that the diminutive brown house snake (Lamprophis fuliginosus) is my one shining hope. It's small (about 1 m/3 ft) and its teeth are entirely venom-free. It even sounds reassuringly friendly; like a house cat.
Of course I've never actually seen one around here...
But maybe that's just evidence of its discrete and humble disposition.
Currently I remain unresolved.
Would you look?