Available now
Mark O'Shea's new softback edition
Venomous Snakes of the World.


Also his Dangerous Snakes of Papua New Guinea stamp issue
and all his other books on the new 'O'Shea's Herp Shop'

 

Available now
new edition
DK Handbook to Reptiles and Amphibians.


Visit the
'O'Shea's Herp Shop'

 

MARK O'SHEA'S REPTILE WORLD: BRIEF HISTORY

In late 1986, Mark was approached by Ivan Knezovich* from West Midland Safari Park, with the aim of establishing a reptile house at the safari park. Mark has recently returned from four months fieldwork in Papua New Guinea as a member of the scientific directing staff of Operation Raleigh and was considering his next move so the project landed at just the right time. They discussed design and suitable species for inclusion in the collection.

Construction began on the Reptile House at West Midland Safari Park in late 1986, during the winter closed season, and the inital building was completed by the time the Safari Park reopened to the public in February 1987, when Mark was offered and accepted the position of Curator of Reptiles. However, by the time the Park opened only half of the reptile house's interior was completed so visitors were to be guided out of a firedoor at the back of the building until the remainder was completed, which was accomplished following the Easter bank holiday in April.

The reptile house was initially stocked with specimens from Mark's own private collection and a collection of South African reptiles imported for the purpose.

* Ivan is now MD of West Midland Safari Park

The frontage of the Reptile House in the 1990s with its hideously inaccurate cobra signs and
before the African theming of the entire Discovery Trail area.

In June 1987 Mark departed for Amazonian Brazil for five-months to carry out fieldwork for the Royal Geographical Society and the reptile house was managed by other members of the Safari Park staff. This has been the pattern ever since with Mark overseas for varying periods of time every year since except 2004.

In 1991 an Alligator House extension was built onto the back of the Reptile House and a few years later this was expanded and enlarged to allow more space for our growing Nile crocodiles.

The Alligator House section of the Reptile House in the early 1990s, before it was expanded to incorporate crocodile and caiman exhibits.

The staff in the Reptile House in the early years included Nick Brown, who eventually left the Safari Park to join the Royal Navy and is now a policeman in Wales, Sealion trainer Dave Breakwell and his successor Peter Montague, as well as a number of work experience placements and temporary staff.

On Saturday May 1st 1993 Mark received a serious snakebite to the right wrist, from an adult female Canebrake rattlesnake, Crotalus horridus atricaudatus, during a feeding session. Locking the exhibits and collecting the correct antivenom from the office fridge, he made his way to the Front Office where he raised the alarm. He came too with paramedics working on him on the office floor. He was taken to Kidderminster General Hospital where he was stablilised and given fluids via an drip. He was then 'blue-lighted' to the Poison's Unit at Dudley Road Hospital (now City Hospital), Birmingham, with a large police motorcycle escort that ensured the speeding ambulance an unhindered journey throughout. Upon arrival Mark was placed under the car of Dr Robin Ferner of the Poison's Unit and Professor David Warrell, a snakebite specialist at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford. He was immediately moved onto the ICU and given 16 packs of Wyeth Anticrotalic Antivenom which resulted in some serious side-affects including urticaria and serum sickness. He spent 36 hours on ICU and nine days in hospital. Although back at work less than one week later, full recovery from this near fatal snakebite took almost a year.

Mark in Intensive Care at Dudley Road Hospital in 1993,
following his near-fatal canebrake rattlesnake bite.
His hugely swollen right arm is being supported.

In 2000, due to his all-consuming television committments, which were taking him overseas for up to 200 days a year, Mark handed over control of the Reptile House to his then deputy Matt Swatman who had originally joined the staff as a work experience teenager with a private herp collection, but who had matured into a experienced and skilled zooman. Mark became Consultant Curator of Reptiles, a position that combined trouble-shooter with zoo keeper and which enabled him to be present at the Safari Park on busy days (Sundays, bank holidays, special events) to present the popular Reptile Encounters and consult on husbandry and display issues, especially those relating to venomous species.

Matt was head-hunted by Chester Zoo in late 2005 and his position was taken by Adam Richardson, his then deputy, who also proved to be an excellent zooman and enthusiastic herpetoculturist. In 2008 Adam was also tempted up to Chester and his position was filled by a very experienced zoo keeper, Steve Slater, who had worked with a wide variety of animals, from elephants to reptiles in several UK zoos.

In 2009 the Reptile House was absorbed within the Discovery Trail area, which also includes the Sealions, the Creepy Crawlies, the Twilight Cave, containing free-flying bats and an aye-aye, the SeaQuarium and the Education department, and rebranded as Mark O'Shea's World of Reptiles, the aim being to concentrate on species which had either featured in his films or been the subjects of his overseas research. The complete revamp of the collection involved considerable reorganisation of the exhibits which were divided into four main areas: Arid Zone; Wetlands Zone; Tropical Zone and Record Breakers. Visitors would pass through each zone and view appropriate species accompanied by detailed touch-screen information and large, vibrant wall displays that explained how reptiles have adapted to live in the various habitats represented. The final corridor was used for additional topics such as British Reptiles; Snakebite and the Global Amphibian Crisis.

Entrance to the newly refurbished Mark O'Shea's Reptile World

 

Frontage of the newly refurbished Mark O'Shea's Reptile World

The staff in the Discovery Trail who are concerned with the Reptiles are:
Mark O'Shea - Consultant Curator of Reptiles
Chris Ireland - Head Keeper, Discovery Trail
Steve Slater - Senior Keeper, Reptiles & Invertebrates
Dan Hall - Reptile Keeper
Dave Bain - Reptile Keeper

Reptile World staff in the off-show area (L-R):
Dave Bain, Dan Hall, Mark O'Shea, Steve Slater

 

We have achieved a couple of notable first UK captive breedings at West Midlands Safari Park.
Click on the links below to download pdfs of the articles. The Herptile is the journal of the UK-based International Herpetological Society.

Aruba Island rattlesnake
Crotalus durissus unicolor
Taylor's ornate cantil
Agkistrodon taylori

 

West Midland Safari Park is the venue for the annual International Herpetological Society's

"Herpers on Safari"

The next "Herpers on Safari" meeting will take place on 20th August 2011 (see below for details)

 

For more details about the International Herpetological Society and how to join click here.

A publicity poster produced by
the Safari Park