Friday, June 24, 2011

The Snake Farm In Bangkok, Part 2 - The Show

A handler holds up a Gold-ringed Cat Snake (aka Mangrove snake - boiga dendrophila)

Since we did the overview of the Red Cross Snake Farm and anti-venom lab at the Queen Savabha Institute yesterday, let's move on to what for me have been the most interesting part of my visits there: the show-and-tell talks; done twice on weekdays (11:00 and 14:30) and once on Saturday and Sunday (11:00). Again, if you want to be up close for whatever reason get there at least a half hour early. You can see by the photo yesterday that seating with the better view is limited.

This youngster had a front row seat, and loved every minute of the show

The talk lasts for about a half hours and is slanted towards a basic awareness and understanding of the snakes in Thailand, and while there are vicarious thrills involved - such as the handler taking measured and practiced chances in the two photos below - the overall tone is one intending to educate and help people gain some understanding of creatures most of us are unreasonably fearful of.

The handler knew right where to grip the snake to keep him safely out of striking range - and it struck at his face several times, to the surprised gasps and shouts of the audience. I can't identify this particular snake for you to say if it was venomous enough to be dangerous or not (I'd suspect not) but it certainly was interested in trying to bite the guy's face. He allowed it to strike at him a half-dozen times or so.

The heavy rubber boots the handlers wear gives them some measure of protection in this case, since the snakes seemed to be much more interested in things down on their (ground) level, but it made you squirm just a bit when they were squatted down with their hands and arms vulnerable. My guess is that the cobras used for these demonstrations have just been "milked" so as to not have full sacks of venom to inject if they did connect, but I didn't think to ask that question. If someone knows the answer, chime in with a comment below, would you?

-- Sorry, there's no sound to the clips today --

The lecturer himself got fairly close to the snakes and was demonstrating the snake's range of vision in the photo below. He included enough facts, figures, background and anecdotal stories to hold the attention of the adults and children alike, his English was clear and fluent and his joking around provided the levity to lighten his more serious warnings.

Although it looks that way he wasn't playing "Does this bug you? I'm not touching you! I'm not touching you!"

-- Sorry, there's no sound to the clips today --

Throughout the talk, when safe specimens were brought out to show the audience the folks in the front rows were given the chance to get a closer look and sometimes touch the snakes themselves. Each time the handler would smile in their direction and begin to extend his hand with the snake in it, there'd be a minor rush to the front.

It was nice to see kids learning not to fear snakes while also learning to keep a respectful distance away from specimens they'll probably encounter outside of the institute. As I've mentioned, there ARE chances you may encounter snakes in Thailand, and some can put you out of the game within 30 minutes of being bitten.

I don't remember the name of this specimen, but it was kept a ways away from the audience

Aside from the zoological work at the institute tracking the 180 or so species of snakes in Thailand - 56 of which are considered venomous - the Red Cross portion of it, partnered with the World Health Organization, are a leading producer of anti-venoms for victims of local/regional snake bites. As you read yesterday the death by rabies of a Prince's daughter in the early 1900s was the impetus to start the organization. Sometimes the bites of snakes in one area don't respond to anti-venoms from another country, so a regional facility is important.

The snakes they farm are regularly "milked" to get the venom from them. They did this with a cobra as part of the demonstration (below). Once the venom from these (or any of a few dozen other poisonous snakes) is collected it's taken to the Red Cross horse farm in Hua Hin where horses are used to host it, producing the crucial blood serum after being immunized with the venom. Horses have about eight productive years in their life span for this work, and then they're put out to pasture to live out the rest of their days.

A cobra's venom is milked onto a mirror for the benefit of the audience

The snakes used for venom collection need to eat well, and they're fed prepared raw chicken by hand. That sounds like a slightly gentler of a process than I saw them demonstrate after the venom was milked from a cobra. Maybe they were Snakey Treats, I don't know.

While one handler held the snake, another took the chicken with long tweezers that they then used to push the chicken down the creature's throat. My guess is that it wasn't an abusive act or they wouldn't have dared do it in front of visitors, as some of them are undoubtedly sensitive to the mishandling of any creature and it wouldn't be very good public relations.

Try the chicken, it's fresh. No, I mean it... TRY THE CHICKEN.

Monday I'll post some pictures from after the show, when an eight foot boa constrictor was brought in for anyone interested to "pose" with for pictures.

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