“I would rather have snakes around me than mosquitoes,” says a man who has a passion and love for an animal that is feared by many. Leevi Nanyeni, who hails from the northern part of Namibia, says he was fascinated by snakes from a very young age.
Nanyeni, who grew up in Omuthiya, Oshikoto Region, recalled the time he became keen on knowing about snakes. “I was a pupil at Ekulo Senior Secondary School when I became interested in serpents,” said Nanyeni.
Nanyeni, who is employed as a forestry technician at the National Botanical Research Institute, captures snakes in his spare time in areas where people are residing. He releases the captured snakes into the wild with the aim of making residential areas safer.
Nanyeni says that even though a lot of snakes are venomous they are actually harmless to humans and attack only in self-defence or when they feel threatened. He adds that snakes are not the problem that people paint them out to be.
He explains that the book by Namibian author Austin James Stevens titled ‘Snakes in my bed’ opened up the snake world to him and made him better understand them.
Even though he left his home village to become an engineer, his love for nature was so strong that he dropped out two years into his studies. Nanyeni says that he then worked as a tour guide and on his tours he came across all kinds of fascinating snakes that the land of the brave offers.
As one among seven people in Namibia who have the skills and capacity to handle snakes, Nanyeni explains there are many challenges to the craft. Stigma is still attached to snakes in that they are viewed as evil and connected to witchcraft.
“When people call us they expect us to possess or do magic or witchcraft.”
Nanyeni emphasizes that snake catchers have nothing magical that helps them when they come face to face with serpents. Nanyeni makes use of a tong and hook to capture the snakes, and puts them into a white container to later release them into the wild.
For this year alone Nanyeni has caught 32 snakes. The longest snakes he has caught were a 2.25 metre cobra and 2.1 metre python. Nanyeni says that most calls for his service come from areas such as Rocky Crest, Havana and Okuryangava.
He hopes people will change their mindset towards snakes, adding that snakes can live in harmony with people and have a big role to play in the ecosystem.