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Experiencing Hong Kong’s snake safari

Editor’s Word — Monthly Ticket is a CNN Journey sequence that spotlights among the most fascinating subjects within the journey world. In October, we shift our focus to the offbeat, highlighting every part from (allegedly) haunted areas to deserted locations.
Hong Kong (CNN) — A fraction of a second after William Sargent’s torch mild 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, also referred to as Bungarus multicinctus, a species coated in zebra-like black and white stripes that’s one among most venomous snakes on the planet.

“This one is an actual magnificence, it is 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 do not need to get bitten by. If not handled, you may have respiratory failure and die.”

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

The Brit moved to town on the age of two, honing a ardour for herpetology — the examine of amphibians and reptiles — whereas exploring Hong Kong’s lush subtropical landscapes as a teen. Moreover 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 do not need to dwell there. It is simply by circumstance, like a fish leaping in your boat,” he says. “If you happen to’re wise, there’s nothing to be afraid of. However sadly, many snakes are killed due to worry.”

Whereas Hong Kong is a world metropolis practically as giant as Los Angeles, containing among 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 might develop to over 26 ft.

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

One of many non-snakes you would possibly meet on a safari is a brown tree frog.

Dale de la Rey/South China Morning Submit/Getty Photos

“Given its measurement, 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 is 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 probability of encountering a snake isn’t low,” provides Sung. “However the likelihood of getting bitten may be very low. Even in case you are, Hong Kong is without doubt one of 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 all over the 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 is the primary skilled to take part in a “Fast Launch Program” — that means that quite than need to undergo a days-long, bureaucratic process of sending a captured snake to a police station and additional services, he can launch it within the nearest nation park, decreasing workload and preserving the snakes far more healthy.

That coverage change has confirmed an uphill wrestle 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 considered as a menace. The result’s that throughout China practically all the bigger snake species are labeled as weak, threatened or endangered on the Worldwide Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Pink Record, which tracks the conservation standing of the world’s plant and animal species.

However because of Sargent — who has given talks at native colleges and arrange a Fb group, Hong Kong Snakes (whose 15,000 members change pictures, data and recommendation about snake encounters) — snakes are shedding that fearful popularity.

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 because of the group. “You go from being repulsed to actively searching for these lovely creatures,” she explains.

For others, the expertise underlines the distinctive contrasts accessible in Hong Kong: towering skyscrapers beside unique nature. “You get this nice feeling which you could 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 completely different snakes: three bamboo pit vipers; two diamondback water snakes; one bicolored stream snake; a mock viper; a larger inexperienced; and the many-banded krait, whose diaphanously comfortable midriff Sargent holds out for attendees to stroke. “Please do not contact any additional than half manner up its physique please,” he quips. “It will not do my insurance coverage any good.”

And there is 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 vibrant orange and pink blotches.

In direction of the top 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 is making an attempt to get its rear fangs into me,” he says, moments earlier than being bitten on one fingertip. “Ouch! It is fairly poisonous to geckos, however I will be effective.”

As soon as launched, the snake, which has whitish yellow diamond markings operating 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.

Picture: William Sargent handles a snake. Picture by Adam Francis.

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