Snake-catching duo return to film hit show in Durban

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Siouxsie Gillett and Simon Keys of Snakes in the City.
Siouxsie Gillett and Simon Keys of Snakes in the City.
Purnal Poonusamy

Snake-catching duo and stars of the hit reality TV series Snakes in the City, Simon Keys and Siouxsie Gillett, returned to Durban after spending the pandemic-induced lockdown in their home country, the United Kingdom.

Keys and Gillett are set to resume filming for season seven of the National Geographic Wild show, which is scheduled for a March 2021 release.

Before the hard lockdown hit in both countries, the show’s team had managed to produce four hours of footage for the show when they had to pause filming. Keys and Gillett decided to return to the UK where they have a plethora of animals, including two dogs, three meerkats, five tarantulas, about 20 scorpions and 24 deadly snakes, among others.

Speaking about their snakes, they said the reptiles originate from all over the world but are bred in England. They added that in England they need a licence to keep these snakes, and likened it to acquiring a firearm.

On why they choose to film in Durban, they said it was because of the tropical climate, as well as the amount and varying types of snakes.

The say the most call-outs they get are to Umlazi, Ballito and Westville, but they will travel as far as Pietermaritzburg if they know they will be able to catch the snake.

Gillett, who is a herpetologist and coincidentally also allergic to snake venom, said that in Durban there are more non-venomous than venomous snakes.

I think the black mamba is one of the most famous of the deadliest snakes worldwide. It isn’t the deadliest snake, but I think for some reason, because of its appearance, the size of it and its speed, it’s made its name known around the world.
Siouxsie Gillett

According to Britannica, the saw-scaled viper is the deadliest snake in the world, and inhabits arid dry regions and dry savannas north of the Equator.

The black mamba also happens to be Keys’ favourite snake to catch.

“When I’m catching those, every one is different. Some are really chilled. I’ve kept black mambas; I’ve bred black mambas and they can become like puppy dogs. But it’s still a black mamba so treat it with respect. It’s a stick of dynamite.”

When asked if they have ever been scared during a catch, Keys said: “I don’t get scared when catching them, I have respect for them because if something goes wrong, it can go wrong very quickly.”

However, one of Keys’ most terrifying moments while shooting was when he had to rescue a python from inside a pipe. He said he wasn’t afraid of the snake, but the fragile pipe and the fact that people were about to pour fuel down the pipe and set it alight, which he believed could have caused the pipe to collapse on the snake, the cameraman and himself.

The duo rescuing an African python.

After catching snakes there are designated areas where the couple releases them back into the wild.

One of their main aims is to educate people around the world and shed the stigma and superstitions attached to the reptiles.

While filming, the entire Snakes in the City team spend their day together waiting for calls. There is no charge for a call-out, and depending on the circumstances, the caller may (with permission) end up on the international reality TV series. But it’s also because of this that they get many hoax calls, which requires a screening process by the production team.

The number to call is 063 234 6932.

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