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Permits - South Africa

To start with I have been out of permitting for many year now, so things could have easily changed and to add to this in South Africa this varies depending on provinces. This is an overview of the way it was, so if you want the specifics and latest procedures please contact your Department of Conservation.

Another useful source of information are the local herpetological associations. There are a few of them around. In Gauteng there was “Transvaal Herpetological Association” and “East Rand Herpetological Association”. Since then African Snakebite Institute has also started up an association.

The principle was fairly simple and in a lot of cases worked fairly well. Obviously there were problems, irritations etc.., but as a whole I had no issues with obtaining permits from the Cape, Natal, Limpopo, North West or Gauteng. 15 years later this could well have changed.

The basics they work off is the sourcing of an animal to obtaining a keeping permit is that it must be of legal origin:

  1. Specimen is on a keeping permit
  2. Specimen was caught by a permitted catcher (Problem Snakes)
  3. Specimen was bred from legal/ permitted stock
  4. Sourced from a zoo

It may be a requirement of the Nature Conservation body that you are a member of a herpetological association. If this is the case all these associations have their own protocols that one must comply to before the permit officer will sign off your permit application to go to Nature Conservation.

You may also need to apply for a transport permit in combination with your keeping permit to get the specimen(s) from the donor to your premises, especially if between provinces. Then there was the need for an import and export permit from the applicable provinces.

The transport permit was applicable when you move, a show permit is required if you do displays or education, a catching permit to remove problem snakes etc… Basically anything to do with indigenous reptiles. Natal is not quite as strict, the Cape is more strict, so ask them what to comply to. Some provinces require the permitting of exotics.

Note there is also AIS (Alien Invasive Species) to comply to that certainly affects KZN. There are species that are applicable in nearly all provinces and you will need to review the list. See SANBI.

Tortoises could be sourced from Johannesburg or Pretoria Zoo and they were legally allowed to sell. In most provinces the trade in indigenous reptiles is not permitted. This means you can apply to keep a single tortoise or multiple specimens of the same sex sourced from these zoo’s without being a member of a herpetological association. This may no longer be applicable

Joining your local club is not a bad idea. Sourcing specimens from breeders reduces the risk of disease, but it also opens up a network for you when you have problems. In most cases one of the guys can help, or easily get the answers. Quite often they hold talks that can be very interesting and informative.

Indigenous lizards were very problematic when I was involved with permits and basically not granted. This matter you will have to raise with your department of nature conservation. I would also recommend you ask questions regarding exotic species in South Africa as some provinces were talking about permitting exotics as well – The Cape being one. 

If you going to keep exotics, do it responsibly, and should you not want the specimen, sell it, or give it to someone who does, don’t dump it. Be responsible to what is left of our environment and biodiversity.

If anyone has more up to date information pertaining to permits please send this through to me so I can update the above.

Just trying to look big so this human will leave me alone. This is not aggressive behaviour, its a Rinkhals being defensive
Red-Lip Herald Snake flattening of the head to look 'adder like' and showing the red lips. Just another defensive behaviour to try and be left alone.
Snouted Cobra letting me know it was feeling uncomfortable and nervous. As soon as one moves away, so does the snake to where it perceives safety. Keep in mind they don't see the world like us, its choice might be different to you
Giant African Bullfrog inflates to look bigger and badder. All about the show in nature to look the part in the hope what want to kill you decides to go and eat elsewhere for an easier meal, it's typically not aggression
Juvenile Mozambique Spitting Cobra starting to raise up in a threat display as the camera moves in to his 'personal space'. Wasn't fully committed as I was on the border, so was just beginning to 'look big'.
Flap-Necked Chameleon beginning to get grumpy with me in Kruger Park. Colour darkens, mouth agape and often flatten their body and show side on to look big and bold.

Problem Snakes

Very often I got a call with words along the line I saw a snake or please help I have a snake. When I ask when they saw it and where it was something along the lines of a while ago, by the stables, near the patio etc..

Now to some degree I can understand this view. The person is scared which often changes perception. One amusing catch I was called to many years ago was at a local stable. On the phone it was a Rinkhals (Haemachatus heamachatus), when I got there I had varying descriptions from all walks of life and I came to the conclusion I was catching a hybrid Rinkhals, python, worm snake… It landed up being a Red-Lip Herald (Crotaphopeltis hotamboia) of around 20cm long scared out of it’s mind. There are other amusing catches like the Green Mamba (Dendroaspis augusticeps) in an office block in Sandton. Pity the thing was dead, so dead it was plastic, which happened to belong to the MD’s son, but it still instilled fear with everyone. All catchers have their stories, good and bad.

I have made light of it, some are serious and do need to be taken note of. Another was a women who had a Rinkhals in her childs (2 year old) bedroom, problem the snake was between the mother and the door focusing on the child who was not doing very well with standing still. By some miracle the specimen didn’t spit, but it could have ended disastrously. However in this case the mother remained calm and could give an accurate description and I too could give her advice which aided in the whole situation.

Key points to remember:

  1. If you see a snake, make sure someone keeps watching it. They do move and a witch hunt is not what catchers want. It may also not be found, being worse for both parties.
  2. Catchers are also not there to clear out your wendy house, move your rubbish in the corner of the garden etc… If it 100% there or moves there, that is a different story, to I saw it there a few days ago.
  3. Phone a catcher, local police….,or your fire department. Quite often they can assist. Local zoo or animal anti-cruelty league have numbers of people. I unfortunately am no longer permitted and don’t do removals. The Snakebite Institute has an app of snake catchers in your area which can assist.
  4. Some catchers may charge for their time or request for a donation, clear this up in advance. It avoids awkward situations.
  5. Take note of the specimen, size (try look relative to common objects), distinct markings or colour.
  6. Take note of behaviour like standing up or hooding, coiling back, hissing, tail rattle, rubbing on itself etc… These are also key elements to identification that can assist the catcher.
  7. Get to know the specimens and species in your area. This may mean you don’t need to call out anyone and you can remove it safely yourself or just ignore it and let it go on its way.
  8. When you have called someone out, keep watching the specimen.
  9. Keep dogs and cats away, especially from spitting species. Most spitting species can spray venom approximately 1.5 to 2 times their body length. If unsure keep around 2m away. (If anyone gets venom in the eyes including pets use a bland liquid to flush the eyes out and seek medical attention.
  10. During all this, remain calm. They are not that scary, in fact it is often more scared of you in reality and making itself look big so you leave it alone.
    1. If you move back it wont chase you in 99.9% of cases
    2. Given space they are more likely to look for escape routes and avoid conflict
    3. If you unsure if its venomous, don’t pick it up. Err on the side of safety.
    4. Don’t try be a hero, it can hurt. Many years back someone found a black snake in the garden and called her son. He meant well to save the day and remove the snake from mums garden. Problem, it was a Stiletto Snake (Actractaspis bibronii)… These cannot be pinned, but he tried. Bite one to the right hand. No problem thinking he made an error, still focused to save mum grabs with the left.  Well it ended badly and he took a second bite. Mum got a bottle and put it in and took her son to hospital in excruciating pain, where he learnt this species can’t be pinned.