Last week, our junior reporters had a panic-free encounter at a preview of a rare snake exhibition to be held in Tai Po Mega Mall later this month.
While we spoke to snake owner Alan Fung Ka-lun, one of his reptiles, housed inside a transparent plastic box at the exhibition, suddenly straightened itself and pressed its head against the corner of the container. "It is trying to hide," Fung explains. "But if we stand still, it will slowly get used to us."
Snakes prefer to be in an area of darkness rather than the bright environment of the exhibition area, he adds.
Fung, who owns the seven snakes on display, has kept snakes for more than three years. "I like snakes because they are easy to manage," he says. "A lot of people have a misconception that it is dangerous to keep snakes as pets and that they are hard to handle, but it's not true."
Snakes have a slow metabolism - the system where food is digested - so many feed only every 10 days or so in winter. Many snakes do not require a large space in which to live.
"I spend about two to three hours a week taking care of them ... I don't have to handle them every day," Fung says. "Actually, they prefer people not to touch them; they get stressed if you play with them too often."
The dark, mysterious nature of snakes has long intrigued Alan Fung. "Not many animals live happily in a dark and damp habitat the way that snakes do," Fung says.
Keeping pet snakes is safer than you might think, too. "All snakes sold legally in Hong Kong are non-poisonous," he says. "There are also restrictions on importing large snakes. So those you get to keep as a pet are relatively small, and do not have long teeth either."
Fung's Japanese rat snake, also known as Elaphe climacophora, is the most precious of the seven snakes on display. Rat snakes can grow up to two metres long, and Fung's snake has a milky yellow skin - in contrast to the usual green-and-brown colour.
"My snake's pale colour results from a form of mutation called albinism. Only one in every three million carries this mutation; unfortunately mutated snakes tend to die prematurely," he says.
"It is very rare to have one of these snakes grow to full length. Someone once offered to buy this snake from me for HK$700,000 but I turned him down. It carries sentimental value; it's not something you can buy with money."
Depending on the species, snakes can live between 10 and 30 years. So Fung warns that people interested in keeping snakes need to make a long-term commitment.
"Some owners release snakes into the wild when they get tired of their pet, but this is a very bad idea," he says. "The snakes may experience difficulties in adapting to the local environment. Even if they survive, imported species can alter the natural ecosystem."
The snake exhibition will be held at the Tai Po Mega Mall from January 26-31
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