Quotes by King Cobra Experts regarding this act:
He’s an idiot.
I don’t think it was a real solution for anything other than his emotions.
Criminal! No thought given, just did whatever he felt like to get video views.
Releasing 10 King Cobras into the Wild (Videos)
I didn’t look in detail at these videos until just this morning when I posted them at https://www.facebook.com/ThailandSnakes/. I was going to hold off for a few days as I gathered my thoughts, but then there is just too much to say about what happened and I won’t be able to concentrate on my other work if I put this aside.
I’ll be upfront here at the beginning, I know some of the people involved. I know the snake show where these king cobras were kept. I know the owner, the staff. I know the resort where they let some of the king cobras go, and I know the forest where they let more of them go. I know David Frohlich. I’ve heard much about Chris Sweet. I don’t know the Czech guy and never heard of Chandler before this.
Someone asked me when the videos first came out if it felt like someone was pissing in my backyard because they chose Krabi as the place to do this when they could have chosen any other city with a snake show in Thailand (Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket, Koh Samui, Khon Kaen).
In a way, yes. The reason these guys know of the snake show here, the wilderness resort here, the forest where they let some snakes go, is because I chose to popularize these spots. Krabi is a fantastic place for all sorts of snakes, and we have our share of king cobras roaming around the area. In fact, the snake show routinely has 30-60 king cobras captive each mating season in that same chicken-wire cage Chandler shows in the first video. That’s every year, without fail. So, I’ve been going there for 11 years and seen around 450 king cobras come through there.
One thing to keep in mind as you read this is, the snakes at the snake shows do not come out alive. That’s the simple truth. Rat snakes and pythons are fed to king cobras. Monitor lizards are fed to the king cobras. Tree snakes and pit vipers are fed to banded kraits.
Monocled cobras (Naja kaouthia) are drown in rice bags, gutted, skinned, and packed with salt and sent off. King cobras are sent around the country to other snake shows and sometimes packed up for Bangkok in groups.
Every so often, a Thai couple will come to pay for the head of a monocled cobra – still bloody, dripping, and jaw gaping. It is placed in a plastic zip-lock bag they take home and perform rituals over their sick infant in the hopes that some god will be appeased and the baby will have good health.
Snakes die all the time on their own from any of a number of ailments. Some don’t eat. Some don’t drink. Some escape through holes in the wire.
The only way a snake survives for any length of time after captivity at the show is after it is bought by someone who probably wants to keep it captive in a tank at home. Lesser of the two evils, I guess.
Putting wild-caught snakes into captivity is wrong from my perspective, but many people don’t share that view. Even people who claim to – and who you might think are of that same perspective, are putting on an act and covering past misdeeds so to speak. I see people in the hobby ALL THE TIME who claim – wild-caught snakes should NOT be captive and made into pets. But guess what? They’re doing it. Or, DID it. This happens so often, I don’t even pay attention anymore. Everyone rationalizes their own bullshit in their head and goes on doing whatever they want. Snakes are exploited for the owner’s amusement. This is the state of the hobby.
I can see now, I’m going to have a lot of inside jokes here so I don’t have to expose the whole rotten mess, but, that’s what I’ve been doing for 11-12 years in Thailand. Trying to keep my judgment to myself while others do as they like in a country that doesn’t have the will, reason, or resources to take care of the wildlife in its own forests.
I heard a number of incorrect statements during the video(s) that I won’t point out because it would cause some people to lose face. People I know. People that I’ve been friends with for over a decade. So, while I appear to spill some of the beans here, I won’t go into everything. There’s more. The videos are part of the story, but a number of inaccuracies exist.
OK, well, there are some major topics of conversation about what happened, so let’s get started.
Thailand Snake Shows
There are about a dozen snake shows that I know of in Thailand. Some of these are not as organized as the major ones in Koh Samui, Phuket, Krabi, and Pattaya, and only consist of a guy with a few snakes who takes them to bars to provide a show for patrons at night in exchange for a bottle of whiskey.
One guy in Bangkok at a show like this wrote to tell me all about his being bitten by a banded krait years ago. To this day he suffers neurological damage as a result of the bite. It was a good bite, latching onto his arm after lunging at him during the show. This example just to show that the industry seems to be completely unregulated.
When someone is bitten by a snake at a show, like when the Chinese tourist was bitten in the face by the python at the Phuket Snake Show just a couple of years ago, there appears to be a crackdown of sorts. Tourists are assured that things will change and heads will roll and this sort of thing could never happen again.
The owner is fined, and that’s that. There are no other repercussions for other snake shows around the country. There is no crackdown of any sort. There are not further enforcements of safety policies or anything else. The snake shows go on just as they have been for decades. If you haven’t noticed, nobody gives a damn about the wildlife in the country. Thailand just isn’t at that point yet. Hell, there are people still throwing trash out the windows of their vehicles. When was the last time you saw that in your country?
I’ve watched literally hundreds of snake shows over this decade. Initially, I went all the time to see the different snakes and learn about their behavior because I wanted to catch them in the wild and take photos and videos. I wanted to see what safe procedures were for handling all sorts of snakes.
Occasionally, a king cobra goes over the lip of the snake pit where the show is held and gets close enough to bite someone in the audience. I’ve seen it happen a half-dozen times. The presenter giving the show is not always as fast as is necessary to grab the tail before the king cobra comes within striking distance. Luckily for everyone involved, the snake just wants to escape as fast as possible. I’ve never seen a snake escape during a show, but they still try.
Snakes are a commodity at a snake show. There isn’t any love for them. Nobody is brought to tears when one dies. There isn’t any real caring for their well-being beyond squirting the cage out once a day to remove feces and throwing dead or live snakes in the cage in case one in the group is hungry.
And, as I’ve already said, no snake leaves the show alive except the very few bought for captivity by hobbyists who don’t care that the snakes were wild-caught. They stick them in an aquarium and gawk at them from time to time to satisfy whatever psychological issues they have inside.
When you call the snake show phone number to come and get a snake in your yard, that snake is given a death sentence when caught. You aren’t doing anything positive for conservation. Don’t kid yourself. You’re perpetuating an industry that exists by exploiting wildlife. I have seen people reassured over and over that the snake will be let go after capture. Guess what? Straight into a chickenwire cage to die in captivity or to provide a bizarre thrill on someone’s plate as a meal.
Buying Highly Venomous Snakes at the Snake Shows
This happens. The law I believe, as it was explained to me almost a decade ago, is that venomous snake keeping is illegal without a zoo permit. Probably researchers with Ph.D. can legally keep venomous snakes. I doubt the Queen Saovabha Snake Institute in Bangkok has or needs a zoo permit, and they keep all sorts of venomous snakes for research, milking, public demonstrations, etc.
Buying a king cobra at a snake show can be fairly cheap, considering what it would cost you in your country. No idea what Chandler paid for 10 king cobras, but it wouldn’t have been more than 20,000 THB. That’s about $600 USD.
Chandler mentioned in the video about wondering if the snake show owner would use that money to improve the show, to get more snakes, etc. Yes, of course. That’s the business. Is 20,000 THB a big score? No, not hardly! Snake shows during high season regularly pull in 15,000 – 30,000 per day in ticket sales. Snake show presenters are paid less than that per month, typically.
While I’ve never heard of Chandler, just watching the videos it appears that he has a real love for snakes, and probably other animals.
I find it interesting that he didn’t ask guidance or opinion about what he was doing from king cobra experts I know. In talking to a couple of guys, they had harsh things to say about letting caged wild-caught king cobras back into the ecosystem.
I haven’t kept snakes since I was a teen. I’m not aware of all the disease that can spread between snakes kept in the same dirty cage for days, and sometimes literally years. I don’t pretend to know anything about that. However, from what I’ve seen, the snake cages where the kings came from are not cleaned as one would hope – according to western standards for reptiles in captivity. I mean, nothing even close to that.
I don’t know whether Chandler thought about that, or was so emotionally amped up to do this that he didn’t take time to consider all the consequences of what he was doing. It’s also interesting whether Chris Sweet, who keeps a virtual zoo of species at his parent’s house in Bangkok, gave Chandler any input at all about what he was doing. Chris keeps many venomous snakes in enclosures and appears to care a lot about cleanliness and providing the right environment for snakes, and whatever else he keeps.
David Frohlich as well – he seems very concerned about health issues, cleanliness, proper environment, etc.
Between the three of them, shouldn’t someone have spoken up about the health risk to other snakes and species by letting 10 dirty (potentially infected) snakes go in the pristine rainforest of Thailand?
Maybe someone did. Maybe it was overlooked for some reason, I don’t know. Just seems like it should have been considered.
If it was talked about, then what happened guys?
I’m certainly no expert on the subject but buying one snake at a time, maybe a couple, and putting them in isolation and treating them for parasites, fungus, and all other problems, and then releasing them would have been a better idea. Yeah? Certainly not as dramatic and not as many YouTube views, but probably a lot better for the environment.
Saving the Lives of 10 King Cobras and Putting Hundreds at Risk?
It’s easy to see the motivation behind the act. Sure, Chandler’s YouTube channel is going to get more attention, more subscribers, more views, more money. I don’t think it was about that, primarily, but it’s definitely part of it. Otherwise, he would have sent David the money to do it himself without fanfare.
I think these guys were motivated by the idea of saving the lives of ten king cobras who faced certain death and decided to put the plan in motion and get it done before anyone found out about it who might care. Me for instance.
About 9 years ago, I had the same idea. I bought a king cobra for 1,000 THB that had just been caught at a hotel in the area. It was a beautiful 2-meter-long snake with fantastic energy. I showed it to some friends of mine who were interested in animal conservation and we watched it slither off into some of the same forests where these guys let their king cobras go. The snake I let go never saw the inside of a cage. It wasn’t because I knew about disease though, I just figured it had the best chance to survive if it was very quickly released after being caught.
To be honest, it was put in one of the same blue snake bags that you see in Chandler’s video. Could disease have spread from snake to snake by these bags? Yes, probably.
I’m no Ph.D. in tropical disease control, but probably disease between snakes can be spread even this way. Back then, I was completely naive about what I was doing and didn’t even consider disease. Never kept snakes in Thailand. My motivation was just to let this one king cobra go so it could escape the hell of captivity.
Then I did it again and again over the years. I chose only snakes still in the bag from a fresh catch (rescue) and let them go at various forest areas where I thought the habitat was suitable.
I figured there was at least some chance that the snake could adapt to its new surroundings and thrive. There was zero chance of survival otherwise. Might as well take the chance.
Chandler’s, and my own motivation were good in my opinion.
Implementation sucked, however.
I do wish he would have consulted experts or more experts than he did. I’ve spoken with 5 experts about this, and none were contacted before this went down.
A courtesy message to me from David Frohlich or Chandler, or someone, would have been nice. Dropping 10 potentially infectious king cobras in my backyard is not going to help our ecosystem here in the least.
There’s also this.
Do Relocated Snakes – Survive?
There have been at least two studies showing relocated snakes do not survive long after release. There are probably many reasons for this, but just my intuition is that the snakes need to immediately find water, proper shelter, and food. It is known that king cobras are highly mobile and can call a 20 square kilometer patch of land ‘home’. So we relocate a king, drop it off somewhere near a stream, and hope for the best.
Thing is, there are already king cobras all over that area and how much food is there? The kings must go on the move, the thing is, they don’t know where to move to. They have no defined range any longer. They go in one direction and either find food or not. In a couple of weeks, they’re in a desperate situation and it becomes crucial to find prey. If they don’t, they don’t survive.
So, there is some chance the snake will survive after relocation. There are also a host of other issues about relocating king cobras – top of the food chain – in an area that is at least part of a range for a number of other king cobras already.
The Optimistic View
At the very best, the 10 relocated kings were able to all find water, food, and adequate shelter and habitat to continue living and not infect any other animals with disease picked up while in close captivity with other snakes – hundreds of which have used the same cage.
The Dark Side
At the very worst, all the snakes died of disease acquired while in captivity and further, they infected a number of other species, snakes and other animals, which also died as a result of this well-intentioned but poorly implemented act of kindness. Oh, and further, they displaced the healthy king cobras already in that ecosystem, some of which died or were eaten by these snakes.
Why Release All 10 King Cobras in only 2 Locations?
They show all ten king cobras released in 2 areas. Why not spread them around more? Just didn’t feel like driving out the 25 km to the national park past Ao Nang? Just didn’t feel like taking any to the waterfall or 100 other potential areas, I guess.
The more I think about it as I write this, the worse I feel about the situation.
King Cobra Expert Weighs In
I wrote a number of people, experts on snakes, experts on king cobras. A couple commented on the sheer stupidity of the act but didn’t want to go on record saying anything. This doesn’t help the hobby at all, but I respect their right to anonymity.
I wrote to Max Jones, expecting the same, and got a different response. Max is doing research at Sakaerat Environmental Research Station in Nakhon Ratchasima just east of Bangkok. He’s researching radio-tagged king cobras. He had a lot to say about this, so I’ll add it below.
Hi Vern, just had a read through your article. You have already made some great points. Here are my biggest issues with the video:
1. As you said, king cobras and other snakes are kept at this place year-round. What they did in the video is not really much different from buying a canary out of a cage to release nearby. It is making something morally and ethically wrong into something profitable, giving them incentive and funds to continue.
2. The releases themselves were ridiculous. I’m not sure how much background reading these guys did or how much information they gathered from the owners, so there’s that. But what should have happened is to try and find out the exact locations that these snakes were “rescued” from (which is inevitably going to be difficult when they are just throwing kings into the same cage). But if they had an approximate idea where they had all come from, they could have released the snakes somewhat near the location and habitat they know.
Expanding on that, they were releasing the kings based off areas they have seen snakes in the past, claiming “kings love this type of habitat.”
It really is not as simple as that. After studying the kings here for several years, we have learned that you really can’t predict where they will show up and where their home range or habitat preference may be. We’ve had kings which don’t go into forests at all and prefer to stay in agricultural areas. Some stay in forests exclusively. Some both. Some king cobras eat monitor lizards exclusively, some eat just pythons, etc. So releasing them in locations that are the opposite to their usual sheltering, movement and foraging behavior will affect them greatly.
3. You brought up survivorship in translocated snakes. I very much doubt that any of these snakes survived. There is a reason that only a few species are successful at becoming non-natives or invasives. That’s because it requires a certain ecological generalist to survive wherever it is released. These snakes likely moved in a linear direction for weeks afterward, slowly losing body condition and then starved to death. But that’s just speculation, king cobra translocations in Thailand is understudied (un-studied) completely.
4. When you mentioned diseases, that is all very true. Another thing I want to point out is that these snakes “are covered in ticks.” Ticks are parasites and also well-studied vectors of disease. So now they are not only releasing kings into potentially new environments but reptile parasites are also being relocated.
5. My biggest problem with this, and the thing that grinds my gears the most with Chris and now Chandler, is the promoting of free-handling techniques. Here at Sakaerat, we have been teaching local rescue teams to handle venomous snakes safely and release them close to the area they were found. I also train my volunteers on proper and safe handling techniques. It makes my blood boil to see some guy from YouTube enter a cage full of king cobras in shorts with no handling equipment.
How is that supposed to inspire the right sense of safety, respect, and knowledge to a broad audience? He is not able to pay attention to all snakes in that cage and is never fully aware of his surroundings. He is obviously very comfortable with what he is doing and that’s one thing, but in my opinion, it is just a case of when this guy gets bitten by a venomous snake, not if. Even later in the video, one of the guys sits next to the snake bag and puts his hand on the bag whilst Chandler reaches in to grab one king out of another bag.
It’s frustrating that people who perform stunts like this with potentially dangerous animals are receiving more attention than the scientific research efforts being made to conserve these animals. Proper and safe handling requires full communication between all individuals present and awareness of your surroundings. Confidence and quick reflexes certainly have their part, but dragging three king cobras out of a cage at once is insanity and I would never condone such behavior regardless of the situation.
I’m sure there are more points but that’s what I got out of it for the most part. – Max Jones, Sakaerat Environmental Research Station.
(Back to Vern) People do stupid shit when nobody is looking. Then they publicize it on YouTube. Intentions seem to be good here, but so poorly implemented that it forces me to pause and WTF it all for a half-hour to try to gain some understanding into how three people who know a hell of a lot about caring for snakes in captivity could do this so haphazardly.
There always seems to be something bizarre going on in this hobby. Did I ever tell you about the time a guy asked me to send him *#*##@)))0 through the mail? I won’t be telling that story, but trust me, there’s always something interesting going on.