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Penge company makes exotic animals stars of the silver screen

PUBLISHED: 13:22 20 September 2012

Feisha the Boa Constricter

Albus the owl

Carter the tortoise

Flower the skunk

Lizzie the iguana

Feisha the Boa Constricter Albus the owl Carter the tortoise Flower the skunk Lizzie the iguana

Archant

The thought of a giant snake wrapping its body around your shoulders or a tarantula crawling up your arm may sound like nightmare.

Seisha - Boa Constrictor. She is 8ft long and would naturally be found in Central and South America.

Gina - Albino Burmese Python. She is just six years old and still has plenty of growing to do. Like her mum, she could easily reach around 16ft plus.

Flower - Black and White Striped Skunk. From North America, two-year-old Flower has appeared in television programmes including appearing with Jimmy Doherty on BBC programme Jimmy’s Farm.

Carter - African Spurred Tortoise. Already measures almost 2ft long as he is the third largest type of tortoise. He could end up weighing up to 200lbs.

Lizzie - Iguana. Eights years old and was covered in open wounds when she arrived at Celebrity Reptiles. Martin uses her story to illustrate the correct care that exotic animals need.

Albus - African Spotted Eagle Owl. She makes up one third of Martin’s owl collection, along with Bramble a barn owl and baby burrowing owl Dobby.

However, for Martin Southcombe, owner of Penge-based company Celebrity Reptiles, it is as run-of-the-mill in his daily work as opening an email is for office workers.

Martin left an acting career to train as a keeper at London Zoo before setting up his company 15 years ago.

His initial plan of taking exotic animals into local schools surpassed his ambitions and the company is now branching out into the media by providing creatures for high-profile productions such as movie The Sweeney – which will see Ray Winstone come face-to-face with one of Martin’s lizards.

Though animals have now become the tools of his trade, Martin’s passion for them burns as bright as ever and he still remembers his first pets fondly.

He said: “I was one of those boys who didn’t want pets like a hamster or a guinea pig. I used to have spiders and snakes in jars – just anything I could catch in the garden really.

“It came to me recently that my first real pets were tortoises. I pestered the life out of my nan and aunts until I managed to get them.”

After leaving school, Martin pursued his acting career and even made it on to the big screen in films such as Sleepy Hollow starring Johnny Depp.

Meanwhile he was continuing to grow his animal collection and he harboured the idea of sharing his passion with others.

He said: “Through word of mouth some nurseries asked if I wanted to come in and after a few trips we set up the business.

“We were lucky because it was pretty unique then but now there are quite a few similar businesses offering unusual animals.”

Eventually Celebrity Reptiles proved more lucrative than acting and Martin swapped one side of the screen for the other by offering animals for film and television work.

Boasting a range of creatures from small insects to giant tortoises, the 55-year-old struggles to recall every creature he owns, though some prove too large to forget.

Aside from smaller tarantulas and baby owls, Gina the Burmese python is Martin’s show-stopper at a mighty 14ft and he is often joined on jobs by lizards up to three feet long.

Having handled these creatures for many years, Martin maintains that anybody who encounters a problem with one is doing something wrong.

Martin has run the company from the outset with his wife Janet, who he admits disappears when it’s time to get out the big spiders.

He added: “Janet won’t go near spiders for love nor money, but I always tell children that it’s okay to be scared of some animals and creatures.

“Spiders I’m fine with, but I become a big girl when I see a bee or a wasp anywhere near me.”

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