Experiencing Hong Kong’s snake safari



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Hong Kong

A fraction of a second after William Sargent’s torch gentle catches the unmistakable glint of snake pores and skin he roars into motion, sliding on a protecting glove and launching himself into the dense inexperienced jungle of northern Hong Kong.

The 46-year-old re-emerges on the paved path moments later with a many-banded krait, often known as Bungarus multicinctus, a species lined in zebra-like black and white stripes that’s considered one of most venomous snakes on the planet.

“This one is an actual magnificence, it’s beautiful,” says Sargent, sweat gathering on his forehead as he strains to maintain the vigorous reptile from slithering out of his grasp. “If there was an elite mannequin for snakes, this is able to be proper up there. However that is the one you actually don’t need to get bitten by. If not handled, you can have respiratory failure and die.”

Since 2017, Sargent, a police-approved snake knowledgeable, has been working nocturnal so-called “Snake Safaris” by means of the verdant, biodiverse terrains of Hong Kong reminiscent of Tai Mo Shan Nation Park – residence to town’s highest peak within the northern New Territories area – taking lots of of daring guests alongside yearly.

The Brit moved to town on the age of two, honing a ardour for herpetology – the research of amphibians and reptiles – whereas exploring Hong Kong’s lush subtropical landscapes as a teen. Apart from fulfilling his personal curiosity, the guided excursions are a manner for Sargent to fight stigma, enhance consciousness and construct appreciation of snakes.

“The overwhelming majority of snakes that present up in your own home don’t need to stay there. It’s simply by circumstance, like a fish leaping in your boat,” he says. “For those who’re wise, there’s nothing to be afraid of. However sadly, many snakes are killed due to concern.”

Whereas Hong Kong is a world metropolis practically as massive as Los Angeles, containing a number of the most densely populated districts on the planet, about 40% of its landmass is protected nation parks, that means its 7.3 million residents typically come into contact with wildlife, together with greater than 50 snake species within the metropolis – from the possibly lethal King Cobra to the Burmese Python, which may develop to over 26 toes.

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

“Given its dimension, Hong Kong has a disproportionately excessive variety of snakes,” says Dr. Sung Yik-hei, a professor at Lingnan College and one of many metropolis’s foremost reptile specialists. “That’s due to town’s nice number of habitats: mountains, coastal areas, lowlands, wetlands, and freshwater streams.”

Regardless of these reptilian riches, there are little greater than 100 snake bites in Hong Kong annually – the equal odds of about one in 50,000 – and the final dying was of a shopkeeper defanging a non-native snake for which there was no antivenom in 1988.

“The chance of encountering a snake just isn’t low,” provides Sung. “However the likelihood of getting bitten could be very low. Even in case you are, Hong Kong is among the most secure locations on the planet for snakebites due to the standard and proximity of hospitals.”

For his half, Sargent receives callouts each week to seize snakes in every single place from colleges to prisons to properties, and as soon as, a seashore on Lantau Island to ensnare a 15-foot python. As of August, he’s the primary knowledgeable to take part in a “Speedy Launch Program” – that means that quite than must undergo a days-long, bureaucratic process of sending a captured snake to a police station and additional amenities, he can launch it within the nearest nation park, lowering workload and preserving the snakes far more healthy.

That coverage change has confirmed an uphill battle amid a fancy cultural context.

In Hong Kong, snakes are eaten in a soup, utilized in conventional Chinese language medication, or are in any other case merely seen as a menace. The result’s that throughout China practically all the bigger snake species are categorized as susceptible, threatened or endangered on the Worldwide Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Crimson Record, which tracks the conservation standing of the world’s plant and animal species.

However due to Sargent – who has given talks at native colleges and arrange a Fb group, Hong Kong Snakes (whose 15,000 members alternate images, info and recommendation about snake encounters) – snakes are shedding that fearful status.

One tour attendee and member of the Fb group, Michelle Yu, who moved to Hong Kong from Washington DC 9 years in the past, says that her notion of snakes has fully remodeled due to the group. “You go from being repulsed to actively looking for these lovely creatures,” she explains.

For others, the expertise underlines the distinctive contrasts out there in Hong Kong: towering skyscrapers beside unique nature. “You get this nice feeling that you may escape from town,” says Loïc Sorgho, a 42-year-old French banker. “The place else are you able to go from a 50-floor constructing to a tropical jungle so rapidly?”

Over the course of a pair hours, the group encounters 9 totally different snakes: three bamboo pit vipers; two diamondback water snakes; one bicolored stream snake; a mock viper; a higher inexperienced; and the many-banded krait, whose diaphanously mushy midriff Sargent holds out for attendees to stroke. “Please don’t contact any additional than half manner up its physique please,” he quips. “It received’t do my insurance coverage any good.”

And there’s loads of different wildlife to be noticed on the tour: barking deer, leopard cats, porcupines, swamp eels, birds of prey, all method of frogs, and fire-bellied newts, whose darkish undersides are peppered with brilliant orange and purple blotches.

In the direction of the tip of the serpentine route alongside rocky, bamboo-lined paths and throughout babbling brooks, Sargent glimpses a child diamondback water snake coiled on a plant and picks it up. “It’s making an attempt to get its rear fangs into me,” he says, moments earlier than being bitten on one fingertip. “Ouch! It’s fairly poisonous to geckos, however I’ll be nice.”

As soon as launched, the snake, which has whitish yellow diamond markings working the size of its scaly physique, glides away atop the moonlit floor of the water amid a refrain of cicadas and into the superbly nonetheless Hong Kong night time.

Hong Kong Snake Safari, from $550 HKD ($70 US) per particular person

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