The man to the right of the pelican above is Bryan Vorster, a South African animal handler who loves to edutain the kids. Under the nom de scène Snake Bite Jones, he’s long been a fixture at the Johannesburg Zoo, where he thrills audiences by trotting out a vast array beasts—including the vultures used in such cinematic gems as Lord of War and Blood Diamond. “We need to teach children to love animals,” he insists, which perhaps explains why he continues to soldier on despite having been bitten by venomous reptiles upwards of 50 times.
But has Vorster’s life’s work now tilted into dangerous obsession? Because it’s not every animal handler who gets caught sneaking new performers across the Namibian border:
Vorster is accused of illegally importing five spitting cobras, two pythons, three chameleons, three geckos and a centipede.
He was arrested at the Vioolsdrift border in the Northern Cape last week…Last week, officials from the Northern Cape Department of Environment and Nature Conservation’s inspection services unit followed a tip-off and found the wildlife allegedly hidden in Vorster’s vehicle, while he was trying to cross the border from Namibia.
Thabo Ditseho, spokesperson for the ministry of environment and nature conservation, said Vorster was well known in reptile circles and was “fully aware of the requirements that permits are needed to import reptiles…The illegal collection of reptiles and other wildlife is a serious problem in the Northern Cape, and there is an increase of this activity during the hotter months of the year,” he said.
The detail that surprised us the most? The fact that Vorster is on the hook for smuggling a centipede. We wouldn’t think such creatures would be part of a wildlife control regime. We certainly have no trouble finding them in our shower drain whenever we travel in less smoothed-out corners of the globe.
Also, to our puzzlement, Bryan Vorster seems to be no relation to fellow South African Corne Vorster, who recently spent 10 hours caged up with 40 deadly snakes. She did so in the company of one of Snake Bite Jones’ apparent rivals for reptile supremacy, Nutty Natie Swart.