Bamboo Vipers and Multibanded Kraits: Experience Hong Kong’s Snake Safari

Editor’s Note – Monthly Ticket is a CNN Travel series that sheds light on some of the most fascinating topics in the world of travel. In October, we’re focusing on the quirky, spotlighting everything from (allegedly) haunted spaces to abandoned places.

Hong Kong (CNN) — A split second after the light from William Sargent’s torch picked up the unmistakable reflection of snakeskin, he roared into action, donning a protective glove and launching himself into the dense green jungle of northern Hong Kong.

The 46-year-old reappears on the paved path moments later with a multi-banded krait, also known as Bungarus multicinctus, a zebra-like species covered in black and white stripes that is one of the snakes the most venomous in the world.

“This one is a real beauty, it’s breathtaking,” Sargent says, sweat pooling on his brow as he struggles to keep the lively reptile from slipping out of his reach. “If there was an elite model for snakes, it would be up there. But it’s the one you really don’t want to get bitten by. If left untreated, you could have a respiratory failure and death.”

Since 2017, Sargent, a police-certified snake expert, has been running nightly “snake safaris” through Hong Kong’s lush, biodiverse terrain, such as Tai Mo Shan National Park, home to the highest top of the city in the north. New Territories Region – bringing hundreds of daring visitors every year.

The Briton moved to the city aged two, taking a keen interest in herpetology – the study of amphibians and reptiles – while exploring Hong Kong’s lush subtropical landscapes as a teenager. In addition to satisfying his own self-interest, guided tours are a way for Sargent to fight stigma, improve awareness, and build appreciation for snakes.

“The vast majority of snakes that show up in your house don’t want to live there. It’s just by circumstance, like a fish jumping into your boat,” he says. “If you are reasonable, there is nothing to fear. Unfortunately, many snakes are killed because of fear.”

While Hong Kong is a global metropolis almost as large as Los Angeles, containing some of the most densely populated districts in the world, around 40% of its landmass is protected natural parks, meaning that its 7.3 million locals often come into contact with wildlife, including more than 50 species of snakes in the city – from the potentially deadly king cobra to the Burmese python, which can grow to over 26 feet.

One of the non-snakes you might encounter on safari is a brown tree frog.

Dale de la Rey/South China Morning Post/Getty Images

“Given its size, Hong Kong has a disproportionately high number of snakes,” says Dr Sung Yik-hei, a professor at Lingnan University and one of the city’s top reptile experts. “It’s because of the city’s wide variety of habitats: mountains, coastal areas, lowlands, wetlands and freshwater streams.”

Despite these reptilian riches, there are just over 100 snakebites in Hong Kong each year – the equivalent probability of around one in 50,000 – and the latest fatality was that of a trader who picked up a non-native snake. for which there was no antivenom. in 1988.

“The probability of encountering a snake is not low,” Sung adds. “But the risk of getting bitten is very low. Even if you are, Hong Kong is one of the safest places in the world for snakebites due to the quality and proximity to hospitals.”

For his part, Sargent receives calls every week to capture snakes everywhere, from schools to prisons to homes, and once, a beach on Lantau Island to trap a 15-foot python. Since August, he has been the first expert to take part in a ‘rapid release programme’ – meaning that instead of having to go through a bureaucratic, days-long procedure of sending a captured snake to a police station and other facilities, he can release to the nearest natural park, reducing the workload and keeping the snakes much healthier.

This change in policy proved to be an uphill struggle in a complex cultural context.

In Hong Kong, snakes are eaten in soup, used in traditional Chinese medicine, or simply seen as a threat. The result is that across China, nearly all large snake species are classified as vulnerable, threatened, or endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, which tracks the conservation status of the world’s plant and animal species.

But thanks to Sargent — who has given talks at local schools and created a Facebook group, Hong Kong Snakes (whose 15,000 members exchange photos, information and advice on snake encounters) — the snakes are losing that creepy reputation.

Tour participant and Facebook group member Michelle Yu, who moved to Hong Kong from Washington DC nine years ago, says her perception of snakes has been completely transformed thanks to the community. “You go from being repelled to actively seeking out these beautiful creatures,” she explains.

For others, the experience highlights the unique contrasts available in Hong Kong: towering skyscrapers alongside exotic nature. “We have this great feeling of being able to escape from the city”, explains Loïc Sorgho, a 42-year-old French banker. “Where else can you go from a 50-story building to a tropical jungle so quickly?

Over the course of a few hours, the group encounters nine different snakes: three bamboo vipers; two diamond-backed water serpents; a two-tone grass snake; a false adder; a bigger green; and the multi-banded krait, whose diaphanous, soft underbelly that Sargent offers attendees to stroke. “Please don’t touch further than half of his body, please,” he jokes. “It won’t do my insurance any good.”

And there are plenty of other wildlife to observe during the visit: barking deer, leopard cats, porcupines, swamp eels, birds of prey, all kinds of frogs and bellied newts. tan, the dark underside of which is dotted with bright orange and red spots. .

Near the end of the winding road along rocky paths lined with bamboo and through babbling streams, Sargent spots a baby diamondback water snake coiled on a plant and picks it up. “He’s trying to sink his back fangs into me,” he said, moments before being bitten on a fingertip. “Ouch! It’s quite toxic to geckos, but it’ll be fine.”

When released, the snake, which has whitish-yellow diamond markings running the length of its scaly body, glides above the moonlit surface of the water amidst a chorus of cicadas and into the Hong Kong’s perfectly still night.

Photo: William Sargent handles a snake. Picture of Adam Francis.

#Bamboo #Vipers #Multibanded #Kraits #Experience #Hong #Kongs #Snake #Safari

Add Comment

%d bloggers like this: