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SA Press: Fangs for the memories


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Posted by Wes von Papinešu on December 08, 2000 at 20:38:09:

SUNDAY TIMES (Johannesburg, S Africa) 03 December 00 Fangs for the moemories (Simpiwe Piliso)
Living alone in a tiny cage is no mean feat - especially if you are sharing it with 42 poisonous snakes!
But that is exactly what Stretch Combrink plans to do over the next four months at the Croc River Reptile Park in Nelspruit in Mpumalanga.
The 41-year-old KwaZulu-Natal man, who has had a fascination for the slithery reptiles since he was a child, will be attempting to set a new world record by spending 121 days locked up with an assortment of black mambas, Mozambican spitting cobras and puff adders.
The current world record for a similar attempt stands at 107 days.
Combrink's bizarre quest to break the existing world record began after he read a book written by the current record holder Austin Stevens entitled "Snakes in my bed" which described how Stevens survived his experience in a snake pit.
He said that after he paged through the book he felt confident that he could better Stevens' record.
"When I contacted the Guinness Book of Records, they said I'd have to have 10 snakes in each square metre of space."
Another qualifying criteria was that Combrink has to diarise and record all his movements with a cam-cord attached to a personal computer.
His fascination for snakes began when he caught his first snake almost 30 years ago.
"My fascination just progressed until it became a profession," he said.
Combrink started his deathdefying bid last Sunday, admitting that the last seven days hadn't been easy.
So far he has had two close shaves with a 2,4 metre black mamba.
Combrink has no serum to protect him against snake bites but a private clinic in Nelspruit is on 24 hours standby should he be bitten.
"It's stalking me " he joked. "On Monday, it suddenly came at me, full charge with its mouth open."
He spends the days warily watching the snakes around him and trying to do some reading at the same time.
At night he stretches out in his hammock and tries to have a good night's sleep but this is rare because his slithery friends have tried getting into bed with him..
"My senses have become so alert that I've managed to avoid any danger, even while I am asleep," he said.
"But to be honest, I'm absolutely scared. Anything can happen in this cage. These creatures seem unpredictable."
Combrink said his family were supporting him in his bid to break the unusual record. "They know I'm an absolute adrenalin junkie," he said.
Jason Stewart, a curator at the park said the snakes were constantly fed and it was unlikely that they would attack Combrink.
This week hundreds of curious visitors have walked through its gates to catch a glimpse of the "snake-man" through the glass door in the cage.
"He's crazy," an elderly visitor murmured, staring at a tangled snake in a tree.
But Combrink has scoffed at his critics saying that he now plans to spend time in a crocodile enclosure.



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