Did you know?
The intermediate shield-nose snake is endemic to parts of the Lowveld, including Hoedspruit, and occurs nowhere else in the world.
'It's not an interest, it's a passion,' says Donald Strydom, who has been running the Khamai Reptile Centre in Limpopo's Hoedspruit for almost 30 years.
The facility, which houses a range of snakes, frogs, toads, chameleons, turtles and other reptiles and amphibians, is primarily concerned with research, conservation and education. 'People are afraid of snakes because they're hard to humanise; they’re so different to us,' he explains.
Welcoming visitors to the centre on daily tours is one way in which Khamai is trying to make these animals seem less 'strange'.
'It's not about getting people to like these creatures, but to understand them,' says Strydom, whose passion for reptiles and amphibians began at an early age and never waned. In his experience, understanding these animals is often the first step in changing people's attitudes towards them, and 'everyone at Khamai will be happy to spend time with visitors, answering questions and hopefully encouraging their interest with sound, interesting information'.
The centre's first occupants were rescued from a snake farm that got into difficulty, and additional animals have been added over the years. Strydom points out, though, that Khamai doesn’t breed or sell any animals and has no ambition to grow its collection. Rather, it uses the animals in its care to educate people in the area about their role in the eco-system and why it's important to conserve reptiles and amphibians.
'People's fear of snakes, for example, means that when they are encountered, they come under threat from humans. We try to show people that they have a role to play and that rather than killing them, we can help to relocate them,' says Strydom. As snakes don’t migrate like birds or mammals, moving them involves careful planning and is informed by the ongoing fieldwork the centre conducts to survey and assess suitable habitats.
Habitat depletion remains a huge problem for reptiles and amphibians, which, by their natures, are hard to find and see. 'This is why research and collaboration in the field is so important,' says Strydom, who is almost as passionate about sharing information as he is about his research and the animals in his care.
'What we do is massively rewarding, especially when one of our interactive sessions helps someone overcome their fear, or when children who visited the centre return as adults and bring their own children,' he says. 'It means we've been successful in what we’re trying to do.'