5 Jul 2019
At the front door is a box or some other sort of container with holes pierced into it. The box contains live creatures that need to breathe. The former and new owners of the Living Desert Snake Park in Swakopmund are no longer surprised when they find a package like that on their doorstep. They are only surprised when they see the latest animal that was abandoned this way. Nonvenomous, venomous and exotic snakes as well as lizards are illegally dumped on the snake park by unknown persons. A nonvenomous corn snake (Pantherophis guttatus) from North America, a nonvenomous California kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula californiae) which is normally found in North America and Mexico, and a young boa constrictor, also called red-tailed boa or the common boa, are evidence of illegal keeping and abandonment. All of them can now be seen in the snake park.
An albinotic western diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox), smuggled into the country in a cigar case as a juvenile, was confiscated in Walvis Bay 18 years ago and handed over to the snake park. Regrettably, the snake died in early 2019. Texas rattlesnakes occur naturally in the south-western United States and in northern Mexico. Two bearded dragons, originally from Australia, were found in the residential area of Vineta and also ended up in the snake park.
These agamas and snakes are proof that reptiles are smuggled into Namibia and kept here illegally. On the other hand it’s no secret that local reptiles, including snakes, are smuggled out of Namibia. The main task of the Living Desert Snake Park is to enlighten Namibians and tourists above all about Namibian snakes and some reptile species. The park affords the opportunity to see a black mamba, Cape cobra, horned viper, Cape file snake or a sand racer up close and to learn more about these fascinating animals.
The Living Desert Snake Park was founded in 1994 by Stuart Hebbard. Stretch Cowbrink, who helped out for some years, took over on March 1st this year (2019) together with his partner Angela Curtis. Stretch is no stranger in the world of snakes. Many years ago he developed the snake park at Mokuti Lodge. He then was the owner of Etosha Fly-In Safaris for ten years, followed by several years in South Africa before returning to Namibia.
The Swakopmund snake park currently houses some 60 snakes as well as chameleons, geckos, agamas and scorpions. In addition to tourists and locals, numerous school classes visit the park to learn more about Namibian snakes and their behaviour.
According to Romeo Muyunda, the spokesman for the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, the owner of a snake park must be registered as a wildlife agent limited to reptiles and must be in possession of a permit to keep snakes under certain conditions. An annual fee of N$ 500 has to be paid for each venomous snake, while the fee for a nonvenomous snake is N$ 100 per year. Only a wildlife agent, limited to reptiles, is allowed to catch, transport and handle snakes. Under the law only half a square metre of space is required per snake, except for pythons which need to be given one square metre.
Muyunda says that the African rock python (Python natalensis) and Anchieta's dwarf python (Python anchietae) are the only snakes in Namibia which are protected by law.
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