You can kiss your asp good-bye

By Munya Vomo Time of article published Mar 6, 2014

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When couples tie the knot, they usually say vows along the lines of “till death do us part.” If you have been in this situation, or if you know someone who has, then you would agree that these words are not said with any zeal to meet death.

Rather, they emphasise the intent of a couple to remain together for as long as possible and hopefully it is until death separates them.

But for married couple Simon and Nadine Keys these vows meant something more profound as they face death every day.

Coming to us on the National Geographic show, Snakes In the City, the lovebirds take us on a dangerous journey, showing us how they catch snakes in people’s home. You know how you call the exterminator to your home when you have bugs? You call this pair when you spot a snake.

“I met my husband in England and at the time he kept several snakes in the house as pets. When we met I kind of knew most of the snakes he had, which shocked him. However, he knew a lot more about them and I continued to learn from him and ended up really knowledgeable,” said Nadine.

Simon ( pictured) grew up in London loving animals and decided he would domesticate several dangerous pets as well as innocuous ones over time in his flat.

“I was never one for playing inside when I was young, I always played outside. I used to go across the field and turn up rocks and find frogs and sometimes snakes. We get a lot of grass snakes in England and I would take most of those and make them pets,” Simon said.

His parents were obviously not impressed by his chosen hobby, but Simon would not let it go. In fact, when he began living by himself it was almost a license for him to fully explore his love for reptiles.

“My first snake was a corn snake, which is a harmless snake. Soon after that, I had boas and pythons and then it turned venomous.

“So within a few years I read books and watched nature programmes, basically teaching myself what I needed to know about snakes. This led me to start a business of importing snakes for the pet trade,” he said.

He did that for a few years then got a full-time job working for a marine company that dealt in fish. He worked there for 11 years, all the while growing his snake collection at home.

“I had about 88 snakes at some point at my flat. I had a separate room for the venomous ones because by law you need to have a specific license to keep them. It was all through fascination that I even kept them,” he said.

He then met the Cape Town- born Nadine and the two fell in love and decided to get married.

“We got married in South Africa and when we returned to the UK, we decided to emigrate to South Africa. We sold our place and all the snakes had to be relocated to other homes.

“It would be a nightmare to try and go with them as there would be a lot of paperwork,” he explained.

The couple ended up in Durban where they stayed for seven years and unbeknown to them, the idea of Snakes in the City was born.

“We started the snake removal service through the municipality and registered with the security companies there. The word got out that that is what we were doing and people responded,” he said.

National Geographic was not a part of this from the outset, but on hearing of this intriguing idea which tied in with what the TV channel stands for, the idea of the show was born.

“I had a friend of a friend in the UK who worked for a film company and he put the proposal forward to National Geographic and Animal Planet in the form of a promo. National Geographic picked it up and we started shooting with them,” Simon shared.

It would take several months for the show to be complete and Simon admitted that a lot of hard work was involved.

“You have to catch different snakes each time to make things more interesting and sometimes we had to sit on the phone hoping someone had a problem with a snake somewhere. The other challenge was that it was even more dangerous doing this for TV because I didn’t only have to worry about myself and Nadine, I had to worry about the crew as well,” he said.

And you may be wondering with a dangerous job like this, if he has been bitten by the slimy creatures he adores.

“Unfortunately, we’ve had a few close encounters so it does happen.

“Once a snake slipped out of my grip and that was because I wasn’t holding it properly. It almost grazed my skin and that’s all a mamba needs to do to hurt you,” he said.

But according to his wife, Simon has been in even more trouble.

“I am the sidekick and when it is a dangerous situation he takes over and I am just the extra set of eyes. He has been bitten several times and we have a few methods to remedy that.

“He has also been spat at in the eyes by cobras and it is excruciating,” she said.


•  Snakes In the City airs every Saturday at 8.05pm on National Geographic channel (DStv channel 181).

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