Austin James Stevens was born, raised and educated in Pretoria, South Africa. Austin’s interest in wildlife began at the age of twelve, and by sixteen he had already gained extensive experience and knowledge, which included a private collection of both venomous and non-venomous reptiles.
Upon leaving Pretoria Boys High School, Austin was immediately recruited into the South African Defence Force by compulsory draft. Austin’s natural aptitude for capturing and relocating venomous snakes was put to good use in the active military zone, where he found himself often called upon to catch and remove snakes from tents, latrines, trenches, machine gun and observation posts. It was during one such incident that Austin sustained his first serious venomous bite from a puff adder, which required his immediate evacuation, first by vehicle across hundreds of kilometres of Angolan bushveld, and a further eight hundred kilometres by Cessna spotter plane to Windhoek Hospital, where after arriving in a comatose state, doctors firstly fought to save his life, and then to save his hand from amputation. A three month battle with the effects of the venom ensued.
It was not long before Austin’s affinity with snakes attracted the attention of theTransvaal Snake Park in South Africa. After a period of herpetological training, Austin took a position at Transvaal Snake Park as Curator of Reptiles, which required him to oversee the care and husbandry of hundreds of reptiles, as well as to present lectures and perform public demonstrations. He remained at Transvaal Snake Park for six years, during which time he made his first television appearances when asked to present three television shows concerning reptiles of the world, live in studio.
After leaving Transvaal Snake Park, Austin traveled to Germany to help design, build, and instigate operation of the Nordharzer Schlangenfarm, a reptile institute in the Northern Harz region of Germany. After the Nordharzer Schlangenfarm became operational, Austin returned to South Africa, undertaking several trips to Germany in the following years to complete updates to the reptile institute.
Austin then commenced work as Curator of Reptiles at the largest privately owned reptile and animal facility in Southern Africa, the Hartbeespoort Dam Snake and Animal Park. It was during this period that Austin established a Guinness World Record ‘snake sit-in’ for living in a 3 metre by 4 metre glass cage, with thirty-six venomous snakes, including black mambas, for a period of one-hundred-and-seven days and nights. He accomplished this amazing feat in order to raise money for the purchase of a companion for Kaiser, the Park’s lone male African Mountain Gorilla. The details of this record were published in the Guinness Book of Animal Records. The specifications and conditions of this record have never been duplicated or broken.
After Austin left Hartbeespoort Dam Snake and Animal Park, he relocated from South Africa to Namibia. He was drawn to Namibia by its unusual desert-specialised wildlife and vast open spaces, all of which were perfect subjects for Austin’s latest interests in writing and wildlife photography. Over the years that followed, some 150 of Austin’s wildlife articles were published in magazines around the world, all accompanied by his own photography.
In 1992, Austin’s first book, Snakes In My Bed, was published by Penguin Books, South Africa. Snakes In My Bed is a hilarious compilation of Austin’s adventures as a herpetologist, in Germany as well as Southern Africa, including his death-defying experiences during his world record ‘snake sit-in.’
The natural progression of Austin’s interest in wildlife photography was his eventual move into wildlife filmmaking. After working with several wildlife filmmakers on various animal projects, Austin acquired his own 16mm equipment and produced his first film about the lives of snakes, Die Natur der Schlange, 1998 for NDR Television in Germany. This first film was nominated for a FRAPNA award at the 14th Grenoble International Film Festival of Nature and Environment, in France.
Austin later filmed and produced Dragons of the Namib, a film about dune-living desert chameleons in Namibia, for National Geographic. Austin spent 8 months of near isolation in the Namib Desert filming these interesting reptiles, and Dragons of the Namib has proved to be an extremely popular wildlife film, being aired continuously around the world.
Shortly after completing Dragons of the Namib, in March of 2001, Austin was approached by Tigress Productions in Bristol, UK, to help design, co-ordinate, and present a film which was to be entitled, Seven Deadly Strikes. The film took Austin from one side of the Southern African continent to the other, in search of Africa’s most dangerous snakes.
The success of Seven Deadly Strikes attracted the attention of Animal Planet USA, and after commissioning two further shows, eventually set in motion a 13 part television series that Austin would present. He requested that Tigress Productions act as his film crew and producers, and the series was shot between 2002 and 2005. The series entitled Austin Stevens Snakemaster, in USA, and presented in other countries around the world as, Austin Stevens Most Dangerous, and Austin Stevens Adventures, took him across the globe in search of the deadliest, the largest and the most beautiful reptiles on the planet.
Once the series was completed, Austin returned to writing and wildlife photography. In May 2007, he released his second book, entitled The Last Snakeman. This semi-autobiography is accompanied by Austin’s spectacular photographs and describes his many adventures with wildlife from his early years onwards, as well his work on his first television series and the realities of wildlife conservation today.
In August 2007 Austin began filming his second 12 part television series, Austin Stevens Adventures 2, in collaboration with Cineflix Canada, UK’s Channel 5, Tigress Productions and Discovery Channel. The series launched Austin on another bout of world travel in search of unusual wild animal behaviour. The series encompassed heart-stopping encounters with wildlife and took viewers to some of the most spectacular places on the planet. Work on the series was completed in October 2009.