Dec 30, 2010

Snakes and Other Creatures

A letter to the ST Forum:
ST Dec 30, 2010
Passing the buck on snake menace

MY DAD came across a 1m snake in the grass area about 10 steps away from the bus stop in Upper Thomson Road on Dec 17.

He told me to call the relevant authorities before the snake slithered to the bus stop, or to the nearby terrace house.

When I contacted the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), the operator transferred me to the unit which she claimed could help in this matter. However, the woman who picked up the call did not even give me three minutes to speak. When she heard 'snake', she said 'Call the police please'.

Meanwhile, a commuter at the bus stop called the police.

I called AVA again and asked the operator if it is indeed the police's job to be catching snakes. She immediately said she will transfer me to corporate affairs but the call was transferred to a mail box instead.

In the next 15 minutes, neither the police nor AVA staff turned up. My dad and I looked on helplessly as the snake slithered back to the bushes and disappeared.

Angela Tang (Ms)
All I can say is that I feel glad for the snake.

Most likely it was a reticulated python (quite common in Singapore). The police are indeed the right people to catch them, but not all police officers are trained to handle snakes.

Captured snakes are passed on to the Singapore Zoo. The zoo receives so many snakes per year that it cannot possibly keep all of them. The zoo simply releases healthy snakes back into forested areas of Singapore. The less-healthy ones are euthanised.

More rarely, cobras are also found in Singapore. These are pretty nasty fellas and are best avoided. Fortunately they will also tend to avoid human beings. I had a close encounter with a black cobra once (near Kent Ridge Park), and it was spectacularly unforgettable. Big black hood, the head rearing up well above ground level, and all of that - very intimidating. A cobra's hiss sounds nothing like what you might expect a snake's hiss to be like. The sound of a cobra hissing is more like a big dog growling. It's pretty scary.

I don't like venomous snakes, but I'm okay with non-venomous ones. I've handled them and petted them on many occasions.

Other animals which I have fed, handled and petted include stingrays, elephants, lions, koalas, wombats, kangaroos, deer, goats, horses, mynahs, dolphins, alpacas, orang utans, giant tortoises, macaws and pigs. In case you're wondering, I do not go on jungle expeditions or wilderness trips. Many of my encounters have been at places such as the Singapore Zoo, Underwater World and similar places in other countries.

I would like to pet a tiger one day. That would be fun. There's a place in Thailand where you can do that. Click here to see the pictures.

But one of my most beautiful wildlife experiences was to hold a hummingbird in my two hands. The little bird had gotten itself lost and trapped inside a building and had grown exhausted, after hours of fluttering around vainly, beating its head against glass doors trying to get out. I gently picked it up, took it outside and set it free.

A hummingbird is so small, and so delicately and carefully designed by Mother Nature. Its fine, subtly luminous colours remind me of a precious jewel.


budak said...

People can call ACRES if they find wild animals in or near their homes and want to relocate the animals back to a suitable habitat:

Ms Tang and her dad would be appalled to learn that snakes are much more common (and mostly harmless) all over Singapore than most people think.

Ivan said...

I think the 'hummingbird' you encountered & saved was most likely a sunbird, as hummingbirds are exclusively American and are not found in the wild in Singapore.

I once visited the temple in Thailand that lets you take photos with captive tigers, but it appears that the story about the temple being a rescue centre for orphaned cubs is a front; a lot of abuse & mistreatment goes on there, the tigers and the tigers are being exploited solely & bred for the sake of profits. After I found out about the criticisms, I felt guilty for having supported such a place in the past.

In any case, nice post. I personally don't see why people need to freak out every time they see a snake; seems like most of the snakes that ACRES rescues are pythons, and yes, although cobras are dangerous, I'm sure most people are blissfully unaware that there are cobras, and encounters must be quite rare indeed. My only brush with a cobra was on Ubin, where my friends and I saw a cobra resting on the ground next to a dirt track, and as we started photographing it from a safe distance, it slithered off into the vegetation, disturbed by our presence.

Besides, the pythons and cobras play an important role in feeding on rats.

I've once rescued a common wolf snake, a small harmless species that's often found in urban areas, where it feeds on geckos. I held it by the back of the head, and while it coiled tightly around my head, it did not struggle much and I released it into the bushes.

Anonymous said...

Ya, there are far more important things for the police to do than catching snakes.

And there are far more dangerous and common things that cause more deaths than snake bites.

So, be lucky and stay alive and well.

hansolo said...

I know you probably meant it as a figure of speech, but it's misleading.

"A hummingbird is so small, and so delicately and carefully designed by Mother Nature."

Do you believe in evolution? It is more accurate to say "evolved" rather than "designed".

Anonymous said...

Sometimes the solution can be so simple, well within the means and scope of those with the knowledge and authority - publicize it.

A well researched publication can be compiled with pictures, info and advice can be issued to every household and updated as and when nec. It would cost the govt very little more than the sort of printed materials it is already pushing out to Singaporeans.

Another form is to provide info at the sites themselves in the form of signboards with details, pictures etc of the flora and fauna to be found in them.

Let not the education of Singaporeans be confined only to formal teaching in classrooms. The govt seem to lack a desire for informal education of outside of the classroom. That is perhaps many Singaporeans are considered 'dumb' in many ways and lacking in social skills, mannerism and not street smart.

Anonymous said...

I have recently visited the Tiger temple in Thailand as well and before visiting the temple, I was also aware of the rumours. But after visiting the temple, I am incline to think that the rumours were just what they were........ Rumours.

1) There were about 75 tigers in the compound and they lived alongside chicken, boars, antelopes, ox, cows .....etc (The other animals also look healthy and active. It would be weird if there were so many animals at the same place but ONLY the tigers were tortured right?)

2) There were many volunteers there (Mainly Thai, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and U.S) and many of them have been volunteering for many months (some even years)we had a good chat with them. They admitted that there were accidents and one even had his finger tip bitten off by by a cub but he did mention that it was a pure accident. (He was feeding the cub, put his hand too close) They also did mentioned that it was most likely due to some 'politics' (not all volunteers get along with one another) that these rumours started.

3) The tigers we saw were rather active and they were willing to play with the volunteers and monks in the temple. Nothing in their actions seem reluctant. (Then again, I am no animal behavioural expert)

I guess you have to see if for yourself to make your own judgement.

Chong Han