14 Mar
2017

While many of us would be happy never to see a snake, Nick Evans has one objective in life – to change people’s perceptions about them

Story by Andrea Abbott

You might have been drawn to Highway resident Nick Evans’s monthly reptile display at the Shongweni Farmers and Craft Market, or read his social media posts describing his frequent encounters with snakes. Perhaps you’ve even called him to remove a slithery visitor from your home – a service Nick performs with enthusiasm and more so if it’s a venomous snake, like the Mozambique Spitting Cobra he plucked from the transmission of a Kloof resident’s car on New Year’s Day this year. “A great start to the year!” Nick said of the catch that he described as nerve-wracking.

So who is this young man who bravely, but cautiously goes where most of us fear (rightly) to tread?

I caught up with Nick at the Palmiet Nature Reserve in Westville, where he was releasing a Natal Black, a Herald and a Stiletto snake. No sooner had we arrived than a trio of young children gathered to see what was in the translucent containers Nick was carrying.

“A Black Mamba,” one wide-eyed chap gasped when he spotted the Natal Black. “Mambas run after you to grab you.”

Nick patiently put the little fellow right, identifying the snake correctly and adding that mambas would far rather run away from a human. “Snakes are far more scared of us than we are of them.” As Nick released the Herald into a pond, he explained to his young audience the important role of snakes in nature. “They eat rats, so it’s better to have a few snakes around than loads of rats. They eat frogs, lizards and birds too. But they also get eaten by birds, mongooses, monitor lizards and genets. It’s all about keeping nature in balance. We mustn’t interfere.”

Building awareness and overturning myths about snakes to prevent them being indiscriminately killed is what drives Nick. “Snakes always spark interest amongst people, but also usually instil fear. I’m working hard to change people’s perceptions of them.”

A childhood fascination for dinosaurs sparked Nick’s interest in reptiles, but it was through watching the late Steve Irwin’s television programmes that his passion for snakes really took hold. “Steve focused on creatures other people don’t like,” says Nick, whose work now extends to amphibians too. “While looking for snakes when I was younger, I’d often bump into frogs – after all, they’re snake food!”

Nick spends many spring and summer nights hosting “froggie evenings” or searching for frogs, a pursuit that has led to him finding new localities for endangered species, such as the Pickersgill’s Reed Frog and the Kloof Frog, the latter the subject of his own research project. “I’m doing continuous survey work, gaining a better understanding of the species density, as well as their distribution in the greater Durban area.”

Nick is also conducting Black Mamba (his favourite snake!) research, which involves tagging individual snakes. “These tiny tags basically give the snake an ID, so we can gather data if the individual is re-captured.” Another project he’s embarking on – in conjunction with an American specialist – will focus on the genetics and movements of Black Mambas. “I’m hoping to make some interesting discoveries about this magnificent animal.”

Looking ahead, Nick hopes to publish a guide to the snakes of KwaZulu-Natal and a book on his experiences. If his entertaining anecdotes on social media are anything to go by, that will be a book well worth reading.

For now though, he’s delighted that through his talks and articles, there’s a growing understanding and tolerance of snakes. “I try to share my passion and enthusiasm with people, hoping that it rubs off. I’ve had many people tell me how their mindset has changed. That really motivates me!” *

072 809 5806 www.kznamphibianreptileconservation.com

Nick’s organisation, KZN Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, is a chapter of the Lawrence Anthony Earth Organization.

 

Captions:

CHANGING MINDSETS

Far left: Nick with the Natal Black Snake and his fascinated audience – Daniel Albertyn, Jessie Albertyn and Ethan van Rensburg.

Left: The Stiletto is a small snake, as this comparison with Nick’s phone reveals, but it is dangerous and will strike readily and inject its victim with a dose of flesh-eating venom. “Don’t pick one up,” is Nick’s advice.

Know the facts

Left: Preparing to release the Herald into a pond. This species favours moist areas and is harmless to humans. Far left: The Natal Black is a seldom seen burrowing snake that inhabits damp areas.

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