Popular snake centre to relocate

* Shaun and Tracey Bodington share a light moment while talking about their snake rehabilitation centres imminent move.

Shaun and Tracey Bodington have been part of the Imhoff Farm’s appeal for two decades and their centre at the entrance to the farm is where countless people have gained a better understanding and appreciation of snakes.

Now, much like the snakes they care for, it’s time for the Bodingtons to shed the old and they’re hoping to emerge anew, in a different venue: but this will need funding or their snake rehabilitation centre will have to close.

The Imhoff Snake and Reptile Rehabilitation Centre is where children and adults alike have touched a snake for the first time, and where they have learned some of the layers of fascinating facts about the variety of reptiles in their extended back yard of the Western Cape.

But change is inevitable and the centre, hit by tough financial times, needs to find new premises as their lease runs out in March and they can no longer afford the costs.

There is hope on the horizon, in that the Bodingtons have been offered a new space on the grounds of the Cape Point Ostrich Farm.

The couple say that Catherina Coelle heard that they had to move and offered them a place and shed on the family ostrich breeding farm to rebuild their centre.

But even that is entirely dependent on fund-raising.

“If we can’t raise funds for the move, which includes converting a shed on the farm into our new centre, then we will have to shut down altogether,” said Tracey.

Mention of this clearly pains them. Shaun’s dedication to their work is evident in his presence, even after being bitten by a venomous snake. During his month-long stay in hospital, he did have the obligatory “should I really return to this life?” train of thought, he says.

His choice lies in the fact that this incident happened 10 years ago.

This isn’t a business to him, it’s a deep love affair with saving and rehabilitating snakes, woven in with teaching people about the beauty and value of snakes and how to be safe around them.

Tracey speaks enthusiastically about their birthday parties, edutainment and environmental conservation programmes and school awareness presentations which they want to continue.

Shaun is distraught at the thought of possibly re-homing the snakes he has spent a lifetime caring for. He says the valley has an almost 100-year history in snake handling and preservation started by prominent snake catcher John Wood who, over a period of 60 years, caught thousands of snakes, spiders, scorpions, lizards and frogs for medical research and the development of snake and spider anti-venom.

So Shaun says the consciousness of the value that snakes add to an area which started with Mr Wood is continued now through the work that they do, helped tremendously by all other passionate snake enthusiasts and trained catchers in the area.

It is the catchers and people’s pets who are more at risk than residents of being bitten, and Shaun reminds us that snakes have a plethora of predators in the wild aside from humans who think the only good snake is a dead one: there are honey badgers, mongoose, raptors for them to contend with too.

“More people die annually from human bites than from snake bites,” Shaun said.

Life without them would mean considerably more mice and rodents – a single mole snake will eat about a million wild mice, rats and moles in her lifetime, he said.

“There is a noticeable shift in winemaking too because pesticides negatively impact on wine so many farmers are actually asking us to bring mole snakes to their farms to rid them naturally of the pests,” Shaun said.

The move away from Imhoff is a move away from the sense of family that has been evident over the past 20 years.

“The Van der Horst family at Imhoff have been instrumental in providing us with the platform in allowing us to take the centre to where it is today, and we are so grateful,” Tracey said.

And it is towards a new phase, under the wing of a new family.

Ms Coelle said her daughter Ella fell in love with Tracey and the snakes at a show the family attended and when they heard that the snake centre’s future was in jeopardy they offered to have the centre on their farm.

“We just sort of found one another and see this as an opportunity to give the animals a chance at a really good life, it will be to the benefit of all the animals to have bigger better enclosures… and hopefully many more people will become educated about them,” Ms Coelle said.

The funds that need to be raised for this move are a conservative estimate of R300 000.

The couple are setting up a raffle for R20 to generate funds. The draw will be held on Sunday December 23.

For more information, contact Tracey Bodington on 083 244 5194 or