Who are you gonna call? The snake hunters of Bangkok
By Nayara Batschke
Bangkok, Sep 9 (EFE).- Every 15 minutes, Bangkok’s “snake hunters” get an emergency call to respond to surprise serpent-human encounters in the Thai capital.
The frequency of these interactions increases during the rainy season in the southeast Asian country, where about 60,000 of these animals are captured every year.
Between June and October, intense monsoon storms regularly cause widespread flooding across the country and increase snake sightings, as the limbless reptiles emerge from their flooded burrows to seek shelter in drier, warmer spots, which often means people’s homes.
These run-ins are both terrifying for some and quite common; with its tropical climate, Thailand is home to more than 200 species of snakes, about 30 of which are venomous.
“During the rainy season, there are more sightings of snakes, because when it rains the places where they live are also flooded. They can’t stay there, so they come out and hide inside the houses,” Sergeant Pinyo Pukphinyo, of the Bangkok Disaster Prevention Center, tells Efe.
Given the frequency of these incidents, Bangkok’s fire department has set up a hotline that operates 24 hours a day to respond to these reptile standoffs, as well handling incidents involving other potentially dangerous animals like lizards and wasps.
“We find snakes everywhere, but the most common places are those where their prey, such as rats or even pets, abound,” says Pinyo, adding that these places could be “the garage, the kitchen, the bathroom or the bedroom.”
Firefighters respond to between 150 and 200 calls each day to come out and search for and capture the serpents in private homes and commercial establishments across Bangkok.
But aside from the distress that a sudden encounter with a snake might cause, Pinyo says most of the creatures captured in the Thai capital are harmless and do not represent a serious threat to humans.
“In Bangkok, there are about three or four species of snakes that are venomous, which represents between 5% and 10% of the total that we catch. The rest, like pythons, are not venomous. And about 70% of the snakes that we catch are pythons,” he explained.
Whenever possible, the firefighters try to release the animals back to nature, although some need to be moved to special centers due to the threat they could pose.
More than 230 species of snakes can be found across Thailand, which has rapidly grown and modernized over the past two decades, especially its cities, where wildlife and urban life have no choice but to try to coexist.
According to urban legend, Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi international airport, the busiest in Southeast Asia, was built on land also known as “the swamp of cobras”, a nickname that was later confirmed by the countless cases of snakes being found in travelers’ suitcases.
As Bangkok continues to grow, many residents are being priced out and forced to move into the suburbs, causing the city to develop further towards the countryside and increasing the likelihood of human-serpent encounters.
“People are moving to the suburbs, which is traditionally where the snakes live, which increases the chances of those encounters as well as of the animals getting into their homes,” Pinyo says.
To make matters worse, snakes are not used in Thai cuisine and don’t have natural predators in urban areas, facilitating their reproduction, which happens to take place during the rainy season.
“With the colder weather, the snakes hide in warm places inside the houses, like shoe cabinets, piles of clothes, even the bed. And that coincides with another factor, which is the moment when the young hatch from their eggs,” the sergeant says.