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Tuesday, August 16, 2022

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Durban’s famous snake catcher

Siouxsie Gillett, Mbali Mtshali and Simon Keys of National Geographic Wild’s “Snakes in the City” series. Picture: Supplied

Siouxsie Gillett, Mbali Mtshali and Simon Keys of National Geographic Wild’s “Snakes in the City” series. Picture: Supplied

Published Aug 6, 2022

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Durban - A gym enthusiast who bench-presses 75kg, loves body piercings, positive energy and snakes.

That’s Mbali Mtshali in a nutshell, the latest team member of the National Geographic Wild show “Snakes in the City”.

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A former pupil of Sithabile Secondary School in Inanda, outside Durban, Mtshali is a trailblazer who deeply believes in the importance of conservation.

Simon Keys, Mbali Mtshali and Siouxsie Gillett in Durban for the filming of National Geographic Wild’s “Snakes in the City” series. Picture: Supplied

She even turned vegetarian because of her love for animals.

Mtshali has joined season eight of the “Snakes in the City” series, which started airing on DStv last month.

In the show, she can be seen dashing around Durban with herpetologists Simon Keys and Siouxsie Gillett, ready to rescue reptiles from every imaginable situation.

Despite her bold personality, Mtshali says she was initially terrified of snakes and looked upon them as “evil creatures” likely to kill her.

But then she joined an organisation as a volunteer and learnt some interesting things about reptiles which changed those perceptions.

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Simon Keys, Mbali Mtshali and Siouxsie Gillett in Durban for the filming of National Geographic Wild’s “Snakes in the City” series. Picture: Supplied

She also had to share information about snakes with others and the first time she touched one she was surprised.

“They are not cold, they are not slimy, they actually feel good,” she told the person who was with her and promptly asked to touch the snake again.

Today she loves the cold-blooded creatures, but it took a long time for her to tell her loved ones because of the myths surrounding snakes and particularly the fear of snakes in the African community.

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“My love for snakes I had to keep secret from my mom for a good two years,” Mtshali said.

As with most young people and their parents, she and her mom disagreed on many issues, and it was up to her grandmother, who was also her best friend, to be the mediator and reveal the secret to her mom.

“My grandmother said ‘just support her’ and today my mom is my biggest fan. She even promotes my work and tells people in the community to phone me when they see a snake,” said Mtshali.

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She said chasing snakes was hard work and tiring, even for someone as buff as her, and warned that viewers should not be deceived by Simon and Siouxsie’s looks because they are super fit.

Simon loves running and Siouxsie does “insanity workouts”, which is a non-stop cardio programme.

Mtshali joined the cast of “Snakes in the City” last September and said what is currently on TV took three months of filming. She added it still didn’t show everything, like the amount of hours they could be trapped in ceilings, how the snakes disappear and they have to overturn everything in homes and even destroy bits of furniture to find them.

Mtshali said it is always snake season in Durban and they are attracted to places that are not kept clean, and where there is an abundance of food, like rats and frogs.

After school she studied graphic design, public relations and marketing and later also took several modules in conservation.

She uses all of these skills to promote nature conservation and erase myths about snakes.

Mtshali said for conservation to be successful someone had to share information.

Despite her edgy dress sense, ripped body and visible piercings, she is eloquent, gentle and soft-spoken. She said everyone had an opinion on what a girl had to conform to, but she is willing to go all out to be and achieve what interests her.

She has taken conservation into her home by making her own detergents which don’t harm the environment and only using reusable goods.

“I (also) felt that I can stop eating meat because if my existence causes harm directly to animals, I can be vegetarian.”

The Independent on Saturday

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