A herpetologist takes one of the animals outdoors for exercise and sunshine

A herpetologist is a zoologist who specialises in reptiles and amphibians. These specialists look after the animals housed in our Dangerous Creatures exhibit in the Village Walk at uShaka Marine World.

Here you will find snakes, lizards, frogs, crocodiles, scorpions and spiders. The aim of the Dangerous Creatures exhibit is to bring people closer to these amazing animals and to teach them that the animals need not be feared. Each animal plays an important role in the complex web of life.

Dangerous Creatures employs four herpetologists who take care of the animals in the exhibit. Their day starts with the task of cleaning out all enclosures, cleaning windows and generally preparing exhibits before opening time. Each animal is on a special diet and the food has to be prepared according to their needs.

Freddie, the green iguana, only gets the freshest greens and strawberries from the best suppliers, while other animals need crickets or cockroaches which are bred on-site in a back-of-house quarantine area.

A herpetologist at work in an exhibit

The herpetologists attend departmental meetings and conduct a weekly health walk with the resident veterinarian to discuss the health of each animal. When all the morning tasks have been completed and Dangerous Creatures is open to the public, the herpetologists go to the back-of-house area where the animals not on display are housed.

Rats, mice, crickets and cockroaches for feeding are housed here and their containers have to be cleaned too. Strict hygiene practices are adhered to in this area to ensure that the highest standards of cleanliness are maintained.

The back-of-house area houses extra animals that are given a break away from the public gaze. If there are any sick animals they will be nurtured back to health in this space.

Animals under a herpetologist's care need special attention

Certain animals in Dangerous Creatures need exercise and sunlight. The green iguana and the bearded dragons are taken out for regular walks to stretch and enjoy the sunlight. It is not unusual to see one of the herpetologists walking the green iguana on a harness through the Village Walk or with a bearded dragon on her shoulder nuzzling her neck. This always generates great interest among visitors who are allowed to touch and interact with the animal while learning about it.

As with any facility that keeps animals, no two days are the same. The herpetologists may find that eggs have been laid during the night or that babies have hatched while they were busy with another animal. The eggs are often removed to be incubated in the back-of-house area or the babies removed to be grown out until they can be put on display.

A herpetologist needs to have an interest in reptiles and amphibians and must not be afraid to handle the animals. A Bachelor of Science degree with zoology as a major or previous experience in a similar facility is a recommendation for those keen to work in this exciting environment.