Chapter 36 – Visiting South African Snake Parks

After Austin shot a new episode focusing on leopards in South Africa for the ‘Austin Stevens Adventures 2’ series, I joined him in Johannesburg for commentary recordings, and to seek out snakes and other reptiles.

Austin Stevens on location with neo-tropical rattlesnake in Mexico.
Copyright Tigress Productions & Cineflix

We completed the voice over for the Mexico rattlesnake film on the first day, taking approximately eight hours to record all the narration. We completed the Florida python episode recordings on the second day, which took ten hours. Throughout the recordings, I sat in front of the huge television and computer system with Sarah, the Series Producer, while Austin sat in the soundproof room next to us and communicated with us through the thick glass window using the usual headphones and a microphone. Sarah and I followed along with the script, making sure that the time codes in the script for each sentence matched the time codes on the film footage being displayed on screen, while the sound technician recorded Austin’s voice over and over again until each line was perfect.

The day after the commentary recordings, Austin took me to a pet shop in Johannesburg that dealt in a huge variety of exotic reptiles. They had juvenile gaboon vipers, huge green iguanas and a countless number of beautiful rat snakes, among other things. I was given an extremely unusual colour morph king snake to hold. He was absolutely beautiful, about as long as my forearm, and white with wide red and yellow blotches all down his body. The pet store owner informed us that he was hoping to breed more of that colour phase from that particular snake. Then I held the friendliest bearded dragon I had ever encountered. It sat comfortably in my hands, watching people as they browsed around the shop.

Austin on location with feral Burmese python in Florida Everglades, USA.
Copyright Tigress Productions & Cineflix

Later that afternoon, we drove out to a relatively new small snake park in Hartebeespoort to pay a visit to a South African man in his early thirties named Martin, whom we had heard was living in a small room with 40 venomous African snakes for 110 days in an attempt to beat Austin’s 107 day, and 36 snakes, Guinness World Record snake sit-in. We toured the park and saw various reptiles, scorpions and spiders from all over the world before approaching a group of people queuing before Martin’s ‘cage.’ All were trying to get a look inside the glass, which was difficult to see through. Austin was quickly recognised and questioned about his presence in South Africa before we were ushered to an open window at the side of the snake cage at Martin’s request. Martin had been reading Austin’s first book, ‘Snakes In My Bed,’ which Austin wrote about his world record snake sit-in experience, and so Martin appeared thrilled to actually meet Austin. A member of staff at the snake park told us that Austin’s book was their main source of research for the sit-in. Martin, Austin and I were photographed together for a herpetological forum and then we asked Martin about his experience so far. At only day 22 of his record attempt, Martin was already swearing he would never do it again, a sentiment Austin shared with him. Austin and I stuck our heads through the window and noticed a laptop with internet access through which Martin was maintaining a blog of his progress, as well as a television, DVD player, radio, fridge, stove and shower. The room was divided into two sections by a glass wall and lockable door. During our visit, I saw five puff adders, and one green mamba in a pot plant. One of the puff adders was basking in the sun on the floor, and the other four had curled up behind the television, on top of the DVD player and under the television stand. We could not locate any black mambas, cobras, or boomslangs from where we stood. The snake park’s letter written to attract sponsorship for Martin’s sit-in incorrectly stated that Austin’s record was unofficial, despite the fact that it appears on page 177 of Mark Carwardine’s ‘The Guinness Book of Animal Records.’ A short time later we explained via email the numerous advantageous differences we had observed in Martin’s living conditions compared to those in which Austin set his record. The park graciously corrected the claim that Martin was breaking Austin’s record, amending it to setting a new and different record of Martin’s own. We never saw any media coverage of the sit-in but we heard months later from a snake park in Namibia that the money for charity that Martin raised during his sit-in was stolen. I never discovered whether an official record was ever set, but Austin remains the holder of his own Guinness World Record to this day.

Amy Stevens holds a colour morph king snake at a South African pet shop.
Photo by Austin J Stevens

After our visit to Martin’s snake park that afternoon, we spent the rest of the day at Hartebeespoort Dam Snake and Animal Park, and then had dinner with the owner, Austin’s former employer, Jack. We posed for more photos at the restaurant and discussed current conditions in South Africa, as well as the many animals at Jack’s park. A baby chimpanzee was born at the park the day before, and Jack ordered that she be named Amy, after me. (Twelve months later I was informed by the Park that little Amy was doing very well.)

We landed back in Namibia a couple of days later, and after much negotiation with the immigration officer at Walvis Bay airport, I was granted another three-month visitor permit and allowed to re-enter the country to once again to follow up my temporary residence permit application, which had still not come through. Shortly after arriving home, we received the first news on the progress of Austin’s Australian visa application. It turned out that the doctor who conducted Austin’s medical exam in South Africa had sent Austin’s medical results all the way to the Department of Immigration’s head office in Sydney after I told the doctor’s office that the results were to be sent to the Australian Consulate in Pretoria. The result of this was that the assessor of Austin’s visa application in South Africa had been waiting nearly three months for Austin’s results to be delivered directly from the doctor’s office, and they had been sitting in Sydney the entire time! Fortunately, the results were located and returned to South Africa, which saved us a second 2500km trip to repeat the tests.

Austin Stevens handling cobras during his 107 day Guinness World Record snake sit-in, Hartebeespoort Dam Snake & Animal Park, South Africa

Amy Stevens with a colour morph king snake at a South African pet shop. Photo by Austin J Stevens











To be continued in Chapter 37, when Austin and I visit Rhino Camp in Damaraland and go in search of black rhinos…

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