Aggressive or scared to death?

Humans are masters in misinterpreting and misjudging. Especially if it comes to snakes and other reptiles. Some people don’t see anything in reptile eyes or faces. They even say they look into death eyes.  Eyes of coldblooded killer machines. Most people also just want to note their negative behavior. Recognize offensive defense of reptiles as aggressive threat. Even so called experts or reptile lovers misinterpret it quite often.

Snakes got already killed as prey from other apex predators long time before the rise of humanity. Since our existence the horror really began. They didn’t get just killed. They also got humiliated. People saw always enemies, if not bad ghosts or the devil in them. Especially limbless snakes had never many options to save themselves from enemy attacks. If they see us terrifying human creatures , adrenaline is pumping through the entire body. Imagine how you would feel, if you look in the eye of death. It’s probably like our breathtaking adrenaline kick during free fall, but without joy.

I rescued cobras, they appeared relaxed like animals, who had never any bad encounters with humans. They didn’t show the hood, they didn’t hiss. No visual signs of defense. I was really tempted, to pet them with bare hands.  No worries! I didn’t do it.  Most wild animals get nervous or even scared, because they’re naturally not used to get handled. Especially not in the way, how some self called “snake lovers” would do it. They find snakes in the jungle, catch it, and grab it around the neck to shoot some crappy images, if not even selfies. Is it really necessary? For safe removal of large pythons…- well, yes. But I always refuse to do it, and get bitten once or twice until they calm down. For wound examination, treatment or research…- yes of course. But even for closer examination I usually prefer sedation. And how about selfie posing for the holiday adventure album? No go! Even if some snakes seem to be relaxed in a neck grip, it doesn’t mean they’re not scared to death. Sometimes they freeze by fear. As soon they have a chance to escape, they will take it. Possibly with one bite to get rid of us.

My old friend Yago, a Green Iguana. He grew up in captivity, and actually enjoyed climbing on my shoulder, or sitting with me on the sofa sometimes. He recognized and accepted me as his owner. But did he enjoy to get stroked? No, he actually didn’t. Closing eyes was more a behavior, as we know it from kids. They think the horror will go away, if they don’t see it. I’m sure some tame reptiles may enjoy it. In case of my old Iguana it meant “I hope that weird feeling comes to an end soon.” Often he stopped me by shaking his head, and flaring his gill. 

 

If you still can’t imagine the way, how reptiles think or feel, when they get grabbed and hurled around, try to handle or pet an animal, from what you think you know and understand it. How about a stray dog, who never had any positive contact with humans? An animal that got just humiliated, kicked or beaten by humans before, will sometimes even take the opportunity to hurt or kill a human, if he comes too close… just like some snakes.

Related imageThis image got shared around the world. An abused dog, who got stroked for the very first time. A snake unfortunately can’t show facial expressions like this. But it surely feels in a similar way.

 

Not many humans have this kind of understanding, to imagine how other creatures feel. It’s called empathy! But what do we expect of humanity? Many people don’t even have this empathy for other humans. How could they possibly imagine, how animals feel. Especially animals without fur and minor facial expression, like snakes. But real nature and animal lovers are at least open for empathy. If they learn how to recognize behavior of different animals, they will most likely evolve and improve this precious skill. And then it’s not difficult to understand our hissing intruder.

I’m glad, that so many people of this kind read my blog. I hope I can convince more people, to feel empathy like you!

Why protecting reptiles? Why not other cute furred animals?

I get asked many times: “Why do you care about these scaly critters?”

I actually don’t know. Was it “Grisu” the little dragon? “Kaa” the python in Jungle Book? No idea!

At the age 4 or 5 I started to catch frogs in a lake, when I was in holidays with my grand parents. I asked my grandpa, if I can take them home, but he denied. He couldn’t stay my sad facial expression, and promised me, to take me to a pet shop, as soon we’re back home in Germany. He kept his word!

We went indeed to a pet store, to find frogs. But in the 70s there weren’t many shops with exotic animals. Just with dogs, cats, birds, fish and co. My parents had already 2 budgies, and they always denied to buy me a dog. Obviously, because they didn’t want to walk it everyday. But they agreed to frogs. They thought, they were easy to handle. But as I said… No unfortunately they all had no frogs. In one shop we found these red eared slider turtles. My first reptiles. They got even pretty big. They grew big so quickly, that we had to bring them back to my grandpa, who had a pond in his garden. He kept it until my parents could afford to buy a house with garden. I believe I was 6 0r 7 years old, when I got my turtles back. Then later our sliders died in a too cold winter. After that my next reptiles I got with 11 years. Some garter snakes, and oriental garden lizards. And slowly my room became a reptile zoo. A collection of reptiles I got from people, who got overwhelmed or bored of caring for such grateful animals

My favorite pets were Iguanas, Monitor Lizards and Pythons

My last ever pet “Yago”, a 1.2 m Green Iguana (Iguana Rhinolopha).

He moved with me several times. In the end even to Thailand in 2008. This was another adventure. He died with 28 years on Samui. R.I.P.

Why Reptile Rescue Phangan?

In 2014 I followed a local facebook group, where people can post their images of wildlife animals on Koh Phangan, an beautiful island in the Gulf of Thailand, which I call my home.

Almost regular I saw posts, where people showed images of killed reptiles. Mostly snakes, and often not even venomous or dangerous to humans or pets. I got really sick of watching it, and started to post my phone number in case someone gets a scaled intruder in house or garden. These snake killer posts appeared more and more often.

I as reptile lover since childhood had to do something.

reptile-webpage-banner

So I published my Reptile Rescue Phangan Facebook page, and started to post the link and campaign posts against killing reptiles in our local island community pages.

It didn’t take long till my service got kinda popular on the island.

Especially after a succeeded rescue mission of our island star python Monty, who got almost beaten to death by humans, and who I’ve treated and nursed back to health in collaboration with my partner and supporter PACS, the Phangan Animal Care clinic for wildlife and stray animals.

before

after

 

I guess you all got my intention, why I founded Reptile Rescue Phangan, and why I’m writing this blog. Exactly! Education and awareness are the magic words.  I just try to still the old fear towards our mysterious intruders, by showing people the true face of Cobra & Co..

Now after I got attention and support of many expats, and some English speaking Thai locals on our island, the next step will be, to convince non English speaking locals, that they don’t need to fear snakes. Of course it will be difficult to convince people, to stop eating snakes. Same as it’s difficult, to convince them to stop other kind of animals. I’m not vegetarian or vegan ether.  But if I can convince people, that snakes don’t want to attack or hurt us, I believe we will have less encounters, where snakes get unnecessary killed.

My Thai language skills are still on a level of a young children, but I can make myself understand. And while I chat and kid around with our locals, they get more and more curious, and try even to understand my passion for these animals, and my intention to protect both. Humans and snakes.

My experience so far:

Most people are surprised, that Cobras live undiscovered in our yard, without causing harm to our kids. We, my girlfriend and me, and our neighbors have one incautious cobra in our yard. Our dogs, and our neighbors were very scared first. Now after first closer contact, and some educational words to our neighbors, they’re all not worried anymore. Our dogs don’t even bark anymore, when our Cobra appears. In the night we just need to use flashlights. But I would anyway recommend to everyone, to always use light torches also for other venomous animals, like scorpions or centipedes. By the way… I rather step on a Cobra, than on a centipede. Why is that? The clip “Harmless Cobra Strike” of Rom Whitaker in my video collection should explain it very well. Since many people here on the island have seen Rom’s documentary, they’re even really cool with Cobras now. It gives me even more motivation, to work on this project.

I wished I would be able to translate my pages into Thai. But it has to wait a bit. Maybe I’ll have to give this job to our island translator at Phangan Translation, who already translated some campaign flyers for me. But it has to wait, until I’ve some money left again. In the meanwhile I have to spend it for my current patients.

In the moment I’m working on another interesting project with two friends and herpetologists of the Cobra research group in the north east of Thailand, and the director of our national park, which could bring a big game change regarding reptile or even wildlife research, education and conservation on Phangan.

We all cross the fingers, that it can launch soon. But I don’t want to reveal too much. I’ll let you know more, as soon everything is officially signed and approved. But I can promise you… It will be very exciting, and reveal a lot more about the life of our mysterious hooded critters! And also about, how we can live with them in harmony….

 

Construction Boom and Land Clearing

In the last weeks I got many calls for relocation of Monocled Cobras, Reticulated Pythons and now even Kings Cobras.

A snapshot of one of the local rescuers. A 3m and 7kg King Cobra on a farm near the Than Nam Rak stream at the forest park. I had to release it very near by the site. Actually the perfect breeding area for our highness.

 

We have still plenty of water around this year. So I guess the dry season can’t be the reason for their appearance. I would rather bet on the construction boom on our island. They clear land for new roads, villas, plantations and resorts. Humans like wildlife, as long they can watch it in safe distance on the television. But in the own yard? They cut the high weeds around the houses, and in plantations, to avoid encounters with snakes or other critters. The evergreen forests around the mountain creeks are shrinking day by day, which is also a reason, why the creeks dry out more quickly. Even the juicy green wetlands have to give way for more building plots now. And the result: Aquatic and half aquatic wildlife has to give way, or gets even extinguished. And our smaller hooded friends and other snakes or monitor lizards, who feed on them, don’t know where else to go. They try to find shelter and new food sources in or around our homes. And King Cobras have to follow, because they prey on them.