WAZA Nature Connect Me-to-the-Sea programme – the journey together continues.

By: Dr Judy Mann

On  Sunday 26th November, we again joined the Inanda families, but this time with animals that have a bad reputation! We set up at the front of a church and we were eagerly joined by young, curious children while some adults sat many rows away. We could not believe how quickly everyone’s attention was focused when the first snake, a red-lipped herald (often confused with a black mamba) came out of its container into our snake handler Carl Scholm’s hand. One child got a fright and ten neigbours jumped away. When Bulelani Ntuli took over speaking in Zulu, their mother tongue, their curiosity got the better of them and within two minutes there was a line to see this beautiful animal up close and for the brave ones to touch the snake.

Snakes are part of this neighbourhood but are seriously feared. Carl showed the participants how to get a little night adder into a shoe box without coming close to it and the group was fascinated! A monitor lizard and bearded dragon made an appearance and soon the whole group were at the front interacting with these special ambassadors, carefully looked after by uShaka Sea World staff members.  Moms were pushing their children to join the lines (even though some were clearly very nervous) so that photos could be taken with cell phones. The team were each able to carefully deal with each child in their own time. What amazed us was that the parents, who started far away and behind a cell phone, each got the courage and also came to meet these special animals. Seeing the bravery of their children, they had no option but to also take the leap of faith. By the time the very big albino Burmese python emerged all were impatient to have their turn, but now quite calm being faced with this very large snake. After just two hours the group promised not to kill snakes and lizards and the children were very happy to hold ‘their’ massive reptile for a group photo. These personal encounters have an enormous impact on people who have traditionally killed reptiles on sight. Slowly, one person and one encounter at a time, we hope to build in our participants the confidence to go out into nature and experience the wonders of connecting with nature.