Although care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of this site, the writer takes no responsibility as to the accuracy of the information contained herein and it shall at all times remain the responsibility of the reader to verify such information.

Permits - South Africa

I haven’t been involved in permitting for many years now, so it’s possible that things have changed since I was last involved. Additionally, permit procedures vary depending on the province in South Africa. The following is an overview of the process as I remember it, but for the most current and specific information, please contact your Department of Conservation.

Local herpetological associations can also be a helpful source of information. In Gauteng, for example, there were the “Transvaal Herpetological Association” and the “East Rand Herpetological Association.” More recently, the African Snakebite Institute has also started an association.

The basic principle for obtaining a keeping permit is fairly straightforward and, in many cases, it worked well. While there were some problems and irritations, overall, I did not encounter issues obtaining permits in Cape, Natal, Limpopo, North West, or Gauteng. However, ~15 years have passed since then, so it’s possible that the process has changed.

To obtain a keeping permit, the animal must be of legal origin, which can be demonstrated in one of four ways:

  1. The specimen is on a keeping permit
  2. The specimen was caught by a permitted catcher (for problem snakes)
  3. The specimen was bred from legal or permitted stock
  4. The specimen was sourced from a zoo

In some cases, membership in a herpetological association may be required by the Nature Conservation body. If this is the case, each association has its own protocols that must be followed before the permit officer will sign off on your permit application for submission to Nature Conservation.

You may also need to apply for a transport permit in addition to your keeping permit to move the specimen(s) from the donor to your premises, particularly if it involves inter-provincial transport. Additionally, an import and export permit from the applicable provinces may also be necessary.

The transport permit is necessary when moving the specimen, a show permit is required for displays or educational purposes. Added to this a catching permit is necessary to remove problem snakes, among other things related to indigenous reptiles. Natal is less strict, while the Cape is more strict, so it’s important to ask what is required to comply with regulations. Some provinces may require permits for exotics.

Note that compliance with AIS (Alien Invasive Species) regulations is necessary and particularly relevant in KZN. There are species that apply to nearly all provinces, and it is important to review the list (see SANBI).

Tortoises can be obtained from the Johannesburg or Pretoria Zoo, and these zoos can sell them. In most provinces, trade in indigenous reptiles is not permitted. This means that you can apply to keep a single tortoise or multiple specimens of the same sex sourced from these zoos without being a member of a herpetological association. However, this may no longer be applicable.

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

Indigenous lizards were very problematic when I was involved with permits and were basically not granted. You will have to bring up this matter with your department of nature conservation. It is also recommended that you ask about permitting exotic species in South Africa, as some provinces are considering this, particularly the Cape.

If you decide to keep exotics, do so responsibly. If you no longer want the specimen, sell it or give it to someone who does; don’t simply release it into the environment. Be responsible for the remaining biodiversity and environment.

If anyone has more current information on permits, please send it through.

Using foot to get Rinkhals to pose in defensive posture
Just trying to look big so this human will leave me alone. This is not aggressive behaviour, its a Rinkhals being defensive
Herald Snake starting to be defensive exposing red-lip, flattening head and pulling back into S to strike
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.
Mozambique Spitting Cobra in defensive posture - Juvenile / yearling
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 body in defence to look bigger
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 go into defensive posture by spreading hood
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'.
Defensive posture of Flapneck Chameleon
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… The problem snake 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 ‘problem 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 to remove the problem snake.
  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 problem snake.
  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.