By Johan Marais








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About Johan Marais

Johan Marais has devoted most of his life to his favourite hobby – reptiles. He grew up in Montclair, Durban where common reptiles like the Brown House Snake, Herald or Red-lipped Snake, Spotted Bush Snake, Tropical House Gecko and Southern Tree Agama were encountered regularly from a very young age. School holidays were often spent on family farms in Grootvlei, Ermelo and Vryburg where encounters with dangerous snakes invariably resulted in one of the adults killing the snake.

As a teenager he kept a variety of snakes in captivity and, at one stage,  also had a 1.5 m Nile Crocodile (complete with permit) in an enclosure in the garden.

In his early twenties he worked at the Fitz Simons Snake Park in Durban and then moved up to the Transvaal Snake Park in Halfway House where he worked as curator for three years. It was during this time that he got to know some of the well-known herpetologists like Wulf Haacke, Niels Jacobsen, Bill Branch. Lynn Raw, John Visser and soon thereafter he also met the late Bert Langewerf, Bill Love, Tom Crutchfield and his very good friend Paul Moler.

He spent about six years farming crocodiles and was involved with Kwena Gardens at Sun City, Cango Crocodile Ranch, Assagay Safari Park, and Crocodile Farm at Manyane Game Lodge. During this time he was an active member of the Crocodile Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

His first book Snake Versus Man was written in 1984 and published by MacMillan Publishers, later taken over by Southern Books. His second book was also published by Southern Books, this time A Complete Guide to Snakes of Southern Africa.

In the late eighties, and with the help of Prof. Gerrie Smith, the first South African crocodile conference was arranged and held at the University of Pretoria with speakers including the late Tony Pooley, Dave Blake, Richard Luxmoore, Kevin van Jaarsvelt, Dr. Chris Foggin and James Clark. The proceedings were published in book form titled Conservation and Utilization of the Nile Crocodile in Southern Africa – Handbook on Crocodile Farming, edited by Prof. Gerrie Smith and Johan Marais.

The next book was a coffee table book titled Snakes of the World and published by Copyright in Paris. More than 100,000 copies were sold in five different languages. Then he wrote Snakes and Snake Bite which has sold over 35,000 copies and is still in print. A Complete Guide to Snakes of Southern Africa was re-written in 2004 and has sold over 50,000 copies. This was followed by What’s that Snake and What’s that Reptile while another book titled A Guide to Reptiles of Southern Africa was co-authored with Prof. Graham Alexander of the University of Witwatersrand. More books are in the making.

Over the years several reptile field trips were conducted with a variety of friends and scientists, some for pleasure and photography while others were more focussed, either in search of specific reptiles or reptile surveys. These trips lead to Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi and all over South Africa.

In addition to the above, Johan Marais also did numerous talks on reptiles all over the world as well as oral papers at reptile conferences. He has lectured extensively to wildlife lodges and corporate companies and provided training in the safe handling of venomous snakes.

Today he spends most of his time lecturing on reptiles, training people how to safely handle snakes, conducting field trips, photographing reptiles and talking on the corporate circuit. And writing more books and lectures on reptiles.


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