Updated 03 January 2014

Keeping snakes

Some of us are dog people, others cat people and then there are those who like reptiles. But before you go out and get yourself a cold-blooded pet these are the things you must know.

Getting a pet snake is very different from picking up a cute puppy or kitten from your local pet shop. To keep any wild or exotic animals, including reptiles, you must apply for a permit from your local Nature Conservation Department. Each province is individually regulated.

According to Cape Nature Conservation thousands of people have snakes and it is the most common permit issued by them.

To keep a wild animal a permit holder needs to comply with the following conditions:

  • The permit holder must keep a "captivity register" to record information such as births, deaths, etc.
  • The permit holder may not keep a wild animal unless the animal is supplied with sufficient food, has sufficient drinking water daily with fresh water, has sufficient water to wash or bathe in and is supplied with sleeping facilities.
  • The animal has to be kept in a cage that is well ventilated, provides protection again heat, cold and rain, permits light to enter and is cleaned at least once a day.

In  Gauteng the following applies:

  • No wild or indigenous animal, including mammals, birds and reptiles, may be transported or be in the custody of someone without a transport or keeping permit.
  • Herptile (reptiles and amphibians) permits are issued by the director of Nature Conservation and will only be issued through a Herpetological Society that is recognised by the director.
  • Permits are only issued for "problem animals" removed by a professional with a so-called "catching permit" or the newborn animals bred in captivity from parents that are already on permit.
  • A permit will not be issued for an animal that was caught or removed as a problem animal by a person without a catching permit.
  • After a "professional catcher" has a problem animal on permit, the permit and the animal can be transferred to another person. This transfer must be done through the Herpetological Society. Permits can only be transferred to and from active members of a Herpetological Society.
  • Venomous reptiles must be kept in locked enclosures with permanent locking facilities.
Snake-keeping tips

Veterinarian, Dr Dorianne Elliot, provides the following tips:

  • Buy reptiles from reputable sources, choose the largest and strongest members of a batch. If you already have snakes, place the new ones in separate cages for at least three months.
  •  Regular and thorough cage-cleaning is very important. Choose a suitable disinfectant. Look for one that has been properly tested and is harmless to your skin and the reptile itself. A good product should have known activity against reptile bacteria and should not leave any residue or stains on cages and carpets. Speak to your vet about this.
  • Parasite control is very important. Examine your pet carefully for mites and other insects. Apart from causing irritation and discomfort, parasites can suck blood and transmit diseases between animals.
  • Reptiles struggle to adapt to new environmental conditions. Before buying one, do thorough research so that you can provide it with an environment that is as natural as possible.

(Sources: Cape Nature Conservation,

(Picture: corn snake from Shutterstock)


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