How do you keep a cobra as a pet? “Very securely,” said Johann Roux, a 35-year-old snake catcher.
Johann recently moved to Bellville where he has no pet snakes. In Durban, his former home, he had several, including a Cape coral cobra.
“You have to have a permit and someone comes out to check if the yard is secure and that you’re not keeping it in a shoebox,” Johann explained.
The only reason he has no pet snakes at his new home, he said, is that “Cape Nature is very strict”. Johann currently has a permit to catch and release snakes but not one to keep pet snakes.
Johann is part of a network of trained snake catchers in the city. The dedicated group of volunteers catch and release venomous and non-venoumous snakes which are spotted at homes all over the city.
Johann has caught snakes in Kraaifontein, Brackenfell, Bellville and even further afield in Paarl, Stellenbosch and Klapmuts.
“There’s absolutely no discrimination among snakes. You’ll find them in the gardens of the most affluent suburbs and at little RDP houses,” he said.
January is peak snake-catching season because snakes are more active in warmer weather. Over the past few weeks snake catchers have had call-outs at least once a day, mostly for Cape cobras.
But worried residents need not put on thick gumboots, just yet. Snakes don’t bite unless they are provoked, Johann said.
“People should not try to kill the snake. A lot of bites happen because someone tries to kill the snake. They try to hit it with a spade and just miss the head and then it bites. Snakes are very scared of people. Mostly, they’ll see you long before you see them and slither away.”
But what should one do when a snake comes to visit?
Firstly, “call a snake catcher immediately”, Johann said. Secondly, leave the snake alone.
“Try not to create chaos or a big scene. The more people that come and look at the snake or try to catch it, the more the snake will get stressed out,” he said. “Keep things calm and keep an eye on it from a safe distance. A snake catcher will be at your house very quickly.”
Most extractions are quick, Johann said, but others can take time, like if the snake lodges itself in an awkward space, such as air vents or shrubbery.
Once a snake is caught, the catcher will drive out of the city and release it in an area where there is a lot of vegetation, Johann said.
Prevention is better than cure though. Often when snakes take up residence it is because the owners have inadvertently created a habitat. In many cases when snake catchers are called out they find the snake has made itself comfortable under uncleared rubble, where there is already very likely a mice nest. Just add water to the mix and the snake has everything it needs to make itself at home.
“Keep your yard clean of debris,” Johann said.
If you spot a snake at your home, you can call Johann at 082 448 8323.