Snake wrangler Steve Meighan’s life is all about the love of snakes.
The Glencairn resident is a certified snake handler and has made it his life’s work to educate people about the reptiles we walk among in the interests of keeping both people and snakes safe.
Steve has been taking a collection of kept snakes to schools across the peninsula to educate kids and has now bought a piece of land in Noordhoek to establish a reptile conservation and education centre.
The land has a river running through it and will provide respite for reptiles while doubling as a place people can visit to learn more and experience reptiles up close.
The Deep South Reptile Rescue Sanctuary is still being built but it’s already home to its first resident, Ninja, a helmeted turtle Steve rescued after its pond dried up. Steve was called out on Sunday November 10 to remove a highly venomous Cape cobra (Naja nivea) from stables in Noordhoek.
“These are the most venomous cobras in Africa, and they are the snake responsible for the most human fatalities,” he says. “Unfortunately for the snake, their habitat is widespread and they come into conflict with humans because our crops and animals attract their favourite food: rodents.”
The Cape cobra is quick to flee but equally quick to strike if threatened, he says. However, in the hands of a professional snake wrangler, it is calm and reluctant to bite.
Never try to remove them yourselves, he warns.
In January, he had a call-out to remove a boomslang (Dispholidus typus). The boomslang is also highly venomous and is haemotoxic.
Steve was able to safely remove this specimen as it digested the bird it had just eaten.
He keeps the snake long enough to check it is healthy, then re-releases it back into the wild.
“Nothing feels as good as giving a healthy snake a second chance,” he says.
His call-outs put him in touch with all kinds of snakes. Herald snakes (Crotaphopeltis hotamboeia) are harmless to people and are often confused with cobras because when cornered they posture similarly and flatten their heads to look more dangerous.
Recently Steve was able to remove a rhombic egg-eater (Dasypeltis scabra) from a local home.
This one is all smoke and mirrors: although they use their scales to make a rasping sound, and pretend to bite, they actually don’t have any teeth.
He often sees mole snakes (Pseudaspis cana), which are not a threat to people although their bites can be rather nasty, Steve says.
It is generally people, Steve says, who pose a greater threat to his scaly buddies. Not just by accident or by encroaching on their habitat, but sometimes with cruel intent.
He talks about the rattlesnake roundup in Sweetwater, Texas, where rattlesnakes are captured in vast numbers and then have their mouths sewn shut before being released to be hunted.
“The obvious cruelty aside, it’s those who are not killed in the hunt that die slowly of starvation or thirst in the heat that I think about,” he says.
Steve will be attending the upcoming Cape Town Reptile Expo in Bothasig on December 7 and 8. The expo opens at 10am and closes at 4pm. Entry for adults is R50 at the door and kids under 16 pay R20.
“It is the first time that this expo is being held in Cape Town and all the top reptile folk will be there with all the latest knowledge and equipment – not to mention of course – lots of reptiles.”
He says he will exhibit at the expo this year, but there is already talk that it might be held at his sanctuary next year.
Steve has a Facebook group, which shares the name of his sanctuary, and fans post pictures of their own rescues and pet reptiles.
Steve says there are different types of venom, and it’s what some snakes use to help them catch and then digest their food.
“Important for people to know is that snake venom moves through the lymphatic system, not in our bloodstream. This is why tourniquets are no longer used in first aid.”
South Africa has 151 known species of snakes that are technically venomous, but only 16 have venom known to be potent enough to be medically significant, to pose a risk, or be life-threatening to humans.
Snakes considered dangerous to us in South Africa are the boomslang; six species of cobras, of which we only have the Cape cobra in Cape Town; the puff adder; the berg adder; the coral shield cobra, which is not a true cobra and which we get in Cape Town; two species of mambas; the rinkhals, which is also not a true cobra; the gaboon adder and two species of vine snakes, although the latter do not live in Cape Town.
The most common venomous snakes we encounter in Cape Town are the Cape cobra, the puff adder and the boomslang.
Venom, says Steve, can be neurotoxic (nerve destroying) cytotoxic (tissue destroying) haemotoxic (which affects your blood) and myotoxic (which paralyse muscles).
Steve says that in South Africa there are, on average, only 10 deaths a year from snake bites because of better access to medical facilities and broader general knowledge.
This is one of the factors driving his work. Steve has launched a BackaBuddy campaign to help raise the funds for his sanctuary. Details can be found at www.backabuddy.co.za/steve-meighan For more information, contact Steve at Steve the Venom Man on Facebook or for snake removals call him at 064 681 0779.