This article is written to address the problem of people killing snakes that come into their space here in Thailand. It’s not just here, it’s a worldwide situation – isn’t it? Here in Thailand, we happen to have more venomous and deadly (35 of them) snakes than most places in the world. We also have a HUGE variety of snakes, with over 200 different species found within the borders and in the marine environment around Thailand. In other Asian countries there are hundreds of more snakes.
There is no great solution to the problem. People will continue to kill snakes every single day in Thailand for one main reason – FEAR. Fear of what?
Fear of Snakes Attacking Family Members
There are 35 snakes in Thailand with venom strong enough to do serious damage and even cause death, with a good bite. The fear of snakes is said to be the most common fear across people of the world. The reason is probably because snakes are so misunderstood.
Snakes don’t attack. They defend. Still, you can tell someone that a thousand times, and yet when they see a snake in their kitchen near their child’s foot, that snake is going to die every time. The parent isn’t concerned about being bitten herself, she just wants to protect her family. To think that this will EVER change is ludicrous. People will always fear snakes as long as snakes have the ability to kill or harm us.
From a snake conservationist perspective, what would I like to see happen in the case above? The woman vacates the room, closing the door behind her, stuffing towels under the door to block the snake’s escape (hopefully). She then calls police or ambulance personnel to have someone come to take the snake away to be let go in the forest.
This would require the woman controlling her fear and anger. Not going to happen in most cases. This would require the woman to think that she CAN just tell the child to back away slowly and not get bitten. Maybe not going to happen. This would require the woman having the idea in her head that the snake can only crawl, and so would be trapped by the closed door. People have a wide range of beliefs about snakes, climbing up the counter or getting lost in the kitchen never to be found is enough to make her just kill the snake immediately.
Is the woman out of her mind?
No, she’s just not educated. 99.xxx% of people in Thailand and across the WORLD are not educated enough to know what snakes are capable of. That’s just the reality of it.
So the snake guys come and catch the snake – everything’s great, right?
No. Snakes are usually NOT let go by whatever snake catcher comes to the house, they are killed and eaten, sold, or given to the snake shows where they die. But rather than the woman trying to kill the snake on the spot – and possibly receive a bite in the process, calling the local snake-catcher at least allows for the slightest chance the snake could be set free into the wild somewhere away from the home. Please note, this is almost NEVER the case.
Also please note, there have been a couple of studies about snake relocation. According to those studies, snake relocation doesn’t typically go well for the snake. Snakes have home ranges for a reason. They know where the proper humidity can be found in that range. They know where food and water are. They know where the safe place to sleep is.
When you throw a snake into a new environment after catching one in a house, that itself can be a death sentence for the snake. More studies need to be done in this area so we can begin to understand how to successfully relocate snakes which have been found in homes or yards, or even in snake shows. (contact me for the PDFs)
See, it really is a complicated problem that almost always leads to the death of the snake in one way or another.
Educating the Public is Difficult
Sensational snakebite headlines create a panicked public at least once a week in Thailand. The fear grows. The ignorance grows. Even supposed experts do their part to panic the public with misinformation. About a decade ago I had to write the editor of a newspaper here to counter the wild and ridiculous claims of the top Red Cross official on one of Thailand’s islands. The official said something that was patently false and totally ridiculous, meant to incite fear in the public. It’s no wonder people fear snakes as they do.
As stated above, 200+ species and 35 venomous and potentially deadly snakes in Thailand means there is NEVER going to be an educated public about snakes.
I know, and know of, about 35 people living in Thailand who probably have a good idea about the realistic potential dangers of snakes here. If I know that many, maybe there are a total of 100. I certainly don’t know everyone. Well, there are 65 million people in the country, so we’re looking at something like a .00015% educated public on the issue. But even if there are 1,000 people who are educated enough about snakes in the country, that’s still less than .0015%. That’s 1.5 people out of 1,000.
What Is the Solution to Educating the Public?
People are not going to study a snake book, website, or video over and over until they feel comfortable dealing with snakes.
The fear of snakes is overwhelming to most people. It’s debilitating really. People tend to freeze up, or run. Sure, if someone is there to help them get over their fear – it can be done in some cases. How many of the 100 or 1,000 people knowledgeable about snakes in Thailand have the time, initiative, and money to educate the public?
I don’t even have it. If ThailandSnakes.com provided some sort of sustainable income, I’d love to spend my days educating people. I’d love to do snake presentations for schools to help kids come to grips with just how disinterested in people snakes really are. The reality is, there is very little money in the hobby for anyone involved in conservation. Recently the first conservation effort I’ve ever heard of was through Phil Brooks on Koh Samui. Apparently, he joined a group of an Australian-owned wildlife conservationist who provided him some sort of funds to rescue animals in need of care on Samui island. Since Phil loves snakes, he’s able to take care of some snakes too.
How long is it going to take to educate even 1 person about the types of snakes in Thailand – ground, tree, subterranean, freshwater, marine, and venomous vs. non-venomous – so that one person feels confident dealing with snakes in Thailand rationally and unemotionally so they can act according to the snake’s best interest?
When I first started studying snakes in Thailand 12 years ago, it took me a long time to get up to speed and I jumped in full-time to learn as much as I could about the species here and their behavior. I know what it takes to get up to speed on Thailand’s snakes and to feel comfortable with knowing what they’re capable of. Still, I’m surprised now and again.
With the large variety of venomous and non-venomous snakes in Thailand, it would take a month of study for a novice to be able to determine with high accuracy whether the snake in their kitchen was venomous and dangerous or not.
Another problem involved in educating the public is that many of the snakes in Thailand just don’t have any good photos to show people. Even if we had a book of high-definition photos people could view online or in a book, there is a lot of variety in coloration, build, size, temperament, etc.
I wrote “Is That Snake In Your House Dangerous?” to attempt to show clearly the dangerous terrestrial snakes in Thailand. Still, I don’t think that’s near enough.
I’ve done what I could with ThailandSnakes.com, but I have photos, information, and videos of only a fraction of the snakes found across the country. I’ve had many emails of thanks from people who have used this website to help them learn more about snakes, but still, I wouldn’t say anyone is as educated as they need to be to live in this country and deal with snakes the best way possible only as a result of studying at ThailandSnakes.com.
What To Do?
To me, the massive number of variables involved in trying to educate the public seem insurmountable at this time.
As you can see, I’m not a dreamer. I’m not a person who believes, if we all just put our talent together, we’ll come up with some way to accomplish this.
The problem is massive, and the real problem is that there just isn’t any indication from Thais in education, in government, that snakes and other reptiles MEAN ANYTHING at all. There’s just no focus on snakes except how to keep people safe from them. Snakes are only something to FEAR. The benefits of having snakes around to eat rodents alone – is huge. How many times have you seen a public service announcement about that? Me? Not in 15 years.
With the exception of wild-caught snakes sold directly to snake hobbyists in Thailand, every wild-caught snake in a snake show in Thailand dies from one of the following:
- not eating (stressed)
- disease from unclean cages and zero disease treatment
- fed to the king cobras
- fed to people
- in superstitious ceremonies for curing babies of ailments
- for people believing the gall bladder or other parts cure disease
- for their skin
Does the Thai government care anything about that? Doesn’t appear they care at all. Snake shows operate daily – where they relentlessly tease the snakes for hours a day during high-season. Snake shows are still up and running. Endangered and threatened animals (tortoises, birds, owls), still being caught and kept.
It’s hard enough to get them to care about slow lorises. Why is that? They’re cute. Snakes aren’t cute so the public and tourists don’t care what happens to them.
Anyway, getting a bit off track.
Why Do People Kill Snakes at Home?
- Outright fear, panic.
- So they don’t need to see it again, and so it cannot mate to make more.
- To prevent people and pets from receiving a bite in the future.
- They don’t understand snakes enough to calmly entrap the snake and call the snake-catcher.
So next time you’re in a snake forum online and someone living in Thailand (or anywhere) posts a photo of a snake they just killed at their home, don’t give them hell for it. Calmly refer them to some information that can help them learn more about snakes for the next time. If they don’t want to learn, or don’t have the time, how are you going to judge them for that?
Snake identification in Thailand is something that takes a serious effort to get good at. So much more so when there’s a snake in your house that you don’t want to get close to, but you can’t see the pattern unless you get close to it.
If I knew nothing about snakes and spiders – I’d kill every one of them that came into the yard that I thought was a danger to my family. It’s human nature.
If you are knowledgeable about snakes or other dangerous animals – focus on offering to educate people, not berate them for solving the problem in the only way they knew how.
Here’s another article about snakes in your yard – Cobras in Your Yard – What To Do?