About Johan

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Johan Marais is a naturalist, conservationist, herpetologist, and photographer and has been involved with reptiles for over forty years. Johan has done extensive field work with leading herpetologists and has written a number of books on reptiles – his books have sold over half a million copies to date. He has contributed to a variety of magazine and newspaper articles, television and radio programmes, and is well-known on the corporate talk circuit. He is also often called upon to present talks on snakes and snakebite in Africa at international symposia and is a Basic Life Support instructor. As CEO of the African Snakebite Institute, Johan heads up an organization that offers courses on Snake Awareness, First Aid for Snakebite, the Medical Treatment of Snakebite and Venomous Snake Handling. These courses are endorsed by both the International Society for Zoological Sciences and FGASA and accredited by the Health Professions Council of South Africa. He also stocks the largest range of quality snake handling equipment on the African continent.

Johan’s interest in reptiles started at a very young age while visiting family farms in Ermelo, Grootvlei, and Stella. As a youngster he kept a variety of snakes and lizards, as well as a one and a half meter crocodile that was housed in their family garden. After school Johan worked as a narcotics detective in the South African Police Service as well as in the Durban City Police, where after he joined Fitzsimons’s Snake Park in Durban. From there he moved to Transvaal Snake Park, which at the time was one of the premier facilities in the world. This was followed by a brief spell in Heidelberg where he started a newspaper, but he then moved on to Sun City where he helped establish and run Kwena Gardens Crocodile Farm. He spent the next eight years of his life in the crocodile farming industry and became a member of the Crocodile Specialist Group of the Species Survival Commission, International Union for Conservation of Nature. He then teamed up with Prof. Gerrie Smith of the University of Pretoria to address the high mortality rates of hatchling crocodiles in captivity. This pioneering research contributed dramatically toward reducing such fatalities, and Johan spoke at crocodilian symposia throughout the world. In 1994, with Mac and Usha Madhav, Johan started a small bookshop in Eastgate Shopping Centre called Fascination Books. Within a few years, he opened several more bookstores, as well as gift shops called The Barking Gecko. Within ten years he had over fifty retail outlets spread throughout South Africa. He got out of retail in 2008 and started the African Snakebite Institute.

His first book, Snake Versus Man, was written in 1983, followed by A Complete Guide to the Snakes of Southern Africa, Snakes of the World, Snakes and Snakebite in Southern Africa, What’s That Reptile?, What’s That Snake?, A Guide to the Reptiles of Southern Africa (with Prof. Graham Alexander), and more recently, Kids’ Snakes of Southern Africa. Most of these books were translated to Afrikaans. A Complete Guide to the Snakes of Southern Africa has sold nearly 100 000 copies, and collectively, more than half a million copies of his books have been sold to date. A revised edition of a Complete Guide to Snakes of Southern Africa hit shelves in 2022. Both Johan and Luke Kemp are working on a book on the reptiles and amphibians of Southern Africa. It will be out later next year.

Over the years, Johan has worked with a variety of reptile scientists on various projects. Field trips to Namibia, Angola, Malawi, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia and Mozambique were conducted with the likes of Prof. Aaron Bauer, the late Dr. Bill Branch, the late Dr. Don Broadley, Prof. Graham Alexander, Dr. Mo Roedel, Dr. Eli Greenbaum, Dr. Colin Tilbury, Dr. Bryan Maritz, Paul Moler, Randy Babb, Dr. Trip Lamb III, Gordon Setaro, Luke Kemp, Marius Burger, Luke Verburgt, and many more – far too many to mention. These trips resulted in the description of new species and many new localities as well as significant observations of reptile behaviour and diet. Two reptile species have been named after Johan: Marais’ Gecko (Pachydactylus maraisi), by Prof. Aaron Bauer, and Marais’ Worm Lizard (Zygaspis maraisi) by the late Dr. Don Broadley and Dr. John Measey.

More recently, Johan has become very involved with snakebite, the effects of snake venoms, the treatment of snakebite, and is the snakebite expert for the Tygerberg Poison Centre’s Poison Information Helpline, and the Red Cross Poison Centre. He is also an advisor to various hospitals and clinics throughout Africa. Johan lectures on snakebite to a variety of doctors in the Northern Cape, Gauteng, Kwa-Zulu Natal, as well as for the South African Society of Travel Medicine. Several doctors throughout Africa contact him for advice when patients are bitten by snakes.