Arriving back in Durban, Snakes in the City adventure and wildlife reality stars Siouxsie Gillett and Simon Keys, with a Taiwanese beauty rat snake.
Arriving back in Durban, Snakes in the City adventure and wildlife reality stars Siouxsie Gillett and Simon Keys, with a Taiwanese beauty rat snake.

Snakes alive! They’re back

By Tanya Waterworth Time of article published Oct 10, 2020

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Durban - Used to scaling trees and crawling through tunnels, Snakes in the City reality stars, Simon Keys and Siouxsie Gillett, kept busy during lockdown looking after their pet snakes, scorpions, tarantulas, three meerkats and fish, along with two dogs, while Simon also spent a lot of time painting their home in Berkshire in the UK.

As international flights resumed, the couple jetted back into Durban this week to continue filming Season 7 of the hugely popular reality series which is aired on NatGeoWild.

Speaking at a media event in uMhlanga on Wednesday, Simon said: “Film­ing was paused, so we headed back to the UK. During lockdown, we kept busy looking after our animals. I have 25 deadly snakes and I’m big into fish tanks. We also have scorpions and vipers and Siouxsie has three meerkats.

Snakes in the City has a large global following, with 90 million viewers in the US, and many of the adventures of the snake-loving couple are filmed in Durban, which has loads of venomous snakes, including the black mamba.

Simon said while he had huge respect for the black mamba, describing it as a “stick of dynamite”, his most frightening experience was crawling down a tunnel after a python.

“It was one of our scariest times, we were crawling through black widows (spiders) and scorpions and I was very worried, not so much about the python, but that the tunnel was going to collapse,” he said, admitting he was scared of heights, but was often found high up a tree after an elusive snake.

The pair have worked for the last seven years with the same production team, which has become a tight-knit group. They are all aware that Siouxsie is allergic to “spitters” such as the cobra, which she avoids, but anything else is fair game.

“This is the best job. One of my most memorable moments was Psycho Sally – a black mamba who flew at me a few times.

“What I love most is teaching people who are scared of snakes and showing them that they shouldn’t be frightened. If you stay still and leave the snake alone, it will slide away.

“It’s also important to educate people about the important role snakes play in the environment and that their prey includes rodents. Without snakes, the rat population would explode.

“Rodents also destroy up to 20% of crops. For example, we partnered with wine farmers in the Western Cape to use mole snakes to curb a rodent problem. Snakes are a natural form of control for rodents,” said Siouxsie.

As a herpetologist, Siouxsie also owned a reptile shop in the UK and has worked on a number of movie sets as the creepy crawly specialist, including Harry Potter, where she had to keep count of 80 cockroaches every time they were needed on set.

Now ready to complete their latest Snakes in the City, due to be released in March, the team is waiting for calls as the spring rains and warming temperatures bring snakes out of hibernation.

Simon said: “Snakes feel the same pain as humans and when people hit or hurt a snake there will be problems. Jeyes Fluid does not work, nor does boiling water.

“If a snake lifts its head up, it’s not about to strike, but looking for a way to escape. The same goes for a rattlesnake – it rattles its tail to warn people that it is there.

“Some days nothing happens and other days, we can respond to seven or eight call-outs. The team is always ready,” he said, adding the service was free, but one of his favourite treats from a grateful caller after a rescue was a Durban samoosa.

Snakes in the City is produced by Durban-based production house, Earth Touch.

Simon and Siouxsie rescue, remove or relocate snakes from properties across the greater Durban area, including as far south as Illovo beach, inland to Botha’s Hill and north to oThongathi.

There is no charge for the call-out and depending on circumstances, the caller (with permission) may end up on the series.

The snake rescue number is 063 234 6932.

The Independent on Saturday

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