Serpentine adventurers, Simon Keys and Siouxsie Gillett (Umdloti, KZN north coast), will be returning to television screens this Monday at 6pm as Season 4 of their wildly exciting animal rescue show, Snakes City, which premieres in South Africa on NAT GEO Wild.
Audiences can look forward to another sensational season of daring snake rescues by the charismatic British couple who have found a home in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal. This hugely popular show, brought to screens by the production company, Earth Touch, has been enlightening viewers across the globe on the dire reality of diminishing snake habitats and the dangerous encounters this ecological tragedy is creating with snakes being discovered in ever more bizarre situations.
Start of the Snake City Adventure
Simon and Siouxsie, currently residing in eMdloti on the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast, were brought together by their passion for reptiles and conservation three years ago. Working at a Tropical Marine Centre, Simon had been breeding and importing snakes to the United Kingdom for 13 years but it was when a friend decided he didn’t want his corn snake – which Simon happily homed – that his real passion for the animal grew.
“It started with just the one snake, and then I had a boa, some pythons, king cobras, spitting cobras, taipans…at one stage I had 88 venomous snakes in my bedroom!” recalled Simon. With no professional training in the arena of snakes, Simon started reading up on the various species, gathering what is now his expert knowledge on snakes.
In 2005, he relocated to South Africa where he started a snake removal service, averaging about 90 call-outs a month – even up to 120 some months – but winter months were much quieter. This prompted Simon to look for alternative sources of income which is when he made contact with Earth Touch.
“They shot a promo of me going to a spitting cobra call-out and the director felt that there was really something great that could come from these rescues,” he explained.
After the first season, Simon and his wife, Nadine, who featured in the series initially, parted ways and Simon returned to the United Kingdom. He then applied for a position at a reptile shop owned by a herpetologist, Siouxsie, someone he’d known in the snake industry for 14 years. When Simon got the green light for Season 2 of Snakes in the City, Siouxsie starred alongside him.
The two now spend their time between South Africa – rescuing snakes in the spring and summer months – and the United Kingdom. Siouxsie said that one of the hardest parts about travelling between the two countries is leaving behind their beloved dogs and critters in the United Kingdom, cared for by Simon’s dad. They have recently, ‘scaled down’ their menagerie, which includes two rescue dogs, 13 snakes, 20 arachnids, four meerkats, four bullfrogs, fish and a macaw.
The two have gained great respect in the snake industry for their incredible rescues, with both going beyond the call of duty to protect the animals they love. Simon recalls having to crawl down a dark tunnel to rescue a rock python that was at risk of dying a gruesome death by some people intent on igniting the creature with petrol.
Siouxsie recalls another python incident in Inanda, inland of KwaZulu-Natal: “It was an unusual scenario as the local residents believed the python was an ancestor returning. They didn’t want to disrespect the family who were adamant that the ‘grandfather’ could not be removed.”
Obeying their wishes, Simon and Siouxsie left, somewhat reluctantly, however the next day they were called back.
“Apparently the python was eating the chickens, so we were asked to please remove it!”
Both of them wear the scars of the trade with pride, reminding them of how cautious they have to be on their daily call-outs.
For Simon, it was a Copperhead from North America – a snake with a potentially fatal bite – that left its mark. “I was bitten on the finger and didn’t think too much of it at the time as it was a baby, only about 10 inches long. By that night I was projectile vomiting and the pain was like having boiling water poured on me. I didn’t have any anti-venom, so I just rode it out.”
The pain continued to increase and necrosis set in, with Simon’s hand ballooning up but, fortunately, it was treated with antibiotics and painkillers. He did, however, lose feeling in that finger.
Siouxsie said she has experienced a number of dangerous encounters that left her a bit worse for the wear. A scar on the knee was the result of one encounter with a 15-foot Burmese python; she has some cuts and bruises from a raccoon, a wolf, cockatoos, macaws, parrots; a few bites from a pig, several tarantulas and a scorpion sting. But her most memorable meeting is with a night adder.
“It was a tiny hatchling which hid in a tiny hole of a shower cubicle and I couldn’t use a leather glove to get it out,” said Siouxsie. “The little thing was in panic mode and bit me. I had swollen lymph nodes and a week of pulsating pain!”
Snake season begins
Having literally saved thousands of animal and human lives in their work together, Simon and Siouxsie are even more energised than ever to get back into snake rescues.
“There will be an increase in snake activity now as it warms up,” explained Simon. “It’s mating and egg laying time. There is often a lot of mamba activity and, in terms of venom, the hatchlings are just as dangerous as the adults. We like to just warn people to be aware, stay calm and call a snake catcher. Hardly any people die from bites here, but if you are not sure, don’t pick it up!”
He said that, through onsite snake handling as well as Snakes City on television, they are finding a change in attitude towards snakes.
“It’s great because people are now calling for help which means the snakes aren’t injured, and neither are humans.”
Inundated with calls throughout the warm months, Simon and Siouxsie operate in a two-hour radius from eMdloti, extending all the way into Inanda, with other snake handlers ready to assist if necessary. Once a snake has been rescued, they will search for the ideal release location, something that can prove quite difficult because of the loss of natural habitat.
Snakes in the City Season 4
Through Snakes City, Simon and Siouxsie are able to educate viewers about the dangers facing snakes while also enlightening them on the various types and the importance of their place in the ecosystem. They also participate in a number of Facebook Live sessions to further educate people about the snake species found locally.
Season 4 is set to be another sensational season as they remove a black mamba from under a child’s bed, save some terrified nuns from a spitting cobra and Simon must face his greatest fear to save a green mamba. Don’t miss out on any of the action by tuning in to Nat Geo Wild on DSTV 182, Mondays at 6pm.
Facebook Live session: If you want to learn more about snakes or Simon and Siouxsie, get the latest information and images on new episodes then make sure to visit Snakes in the City Fanpage on Facebook, where you can watch the latest live videos every Monday at 10am until the 23rd October.