While snakes may not be everyone’s cup of tea, they certainly are fascinating, even for those that prefer to enjoy them from a distance. The Lawnwood Snake Sanctuary’s aim is to educate visitors about hundreds of different snake species, from tiny to mammoth, and to dispel some of the myths and horror stories around them.
Situated right on the N2 Motorway, just 18 kilometres outside of Plettenberg Bay in the Western Cape, this is one of the Garden Route’s many little gems. When coming from Cape Town, it is after Plettenberg Bay, on the right. It lies within a short drive from other popular wildlife sanctuaries like Jukani, Birds of Eden and Monkeyland, making this entire area, known as The Crags, a veritable hotspot for nature lovers.
The Lawnwood Snake Sanctuary tour takes approximately 45 minutes to an hour. It is an interactive tour that encourages visitors to ask questions as they browse the various impressive species that occupy massive sunken gardens and insulated huts with glass display doors. As the guide (the very knowledgeable Michael, in our case) leads you from one enclosure to the next, he provides incredible information about the animals, their diet, their distribution, their unique features as well as what to do if they are encountered in the wild.
The snake species at Lawnwood include Cobras, Mambas, Adders, Vipers, and a couple of harmless snakes. In addition, there are pythons, monitor lizards and three crocodiles that look rather lazy when the sun is shining on their favourite spot, but do not be fooled. These hefty (if a little prehistoric looking) animals are enormously powerful and deceivingly quick and agile. There is also the beautifully plump PigPig, a black pot-bellied pig whose identity crisis has her believing she is one of the pet dogs.
The snake enclosures are all spacious and beautifully adorned with natural pieces of wood, water, rocks and plants so that each species feels right at home. There are night rooms that are equipped with heated pads and special blankets under which the snakes can sleep in sheer, luxurious comfort. Staying warm is of paramount importance to these cold-blooded reptiles. Some of the more tropical varieties are moved into a warm shelter for the winter, and there is ongoing growth and development in an effort to ensure that all the scaly residents have a comfortable home.
At the beginning of the tour, visitors are able to hold and touch a small brown house snake. As the tour continues, the human interaction progresses to larger snakes. By the time visitors reach the last enclosure, they have the opportunity to touch and even hold a massive python around their necks. Those who would like to see the snakes but not touch them will not be pressured to do so. The snakes that are chosen for the visitors to touch are those that have exhibited curiosity towards humans and comfort with them. Those that are known for being a little on the grumpy side are left to enjoy their peace and quiet.