Summer. A season of sun, sand, sea … and snakes? Hong Kong’s snake populations are some of the highest in China. In warmer weather, these serpents become more active, and as the countryside becomes more populated, many of them will end up in and around houses.
But don’t panic – the snake in your house or garden hasn’t come to hurt you, and probably doesn’t want to be there any more than you want it to. And, if you arm yourself with information instead of a stick or other weapon, you might just find a way to not only remove any slithery intruders without harming them, but coexist with them peacefully.
Why do snakes enter people’s homes?
Most snakes are searching for food or other snakes to mate with, and don’t realise they’ve entered someone’s garden or house.
Which species are you most likely to see in your home?
The most commonly reported species in Hong Kong are Burmese pythons, Chinese cobras, red-necked keelbacks, and common rat snakes. However, snake catcher William Sargent believes that these aren’t the only ones that enter gardens and houses.
“I think people kill the smaller ones or they don’t see them,” he says, which explains why these aren’t reported. “I think with the bigger ones, they call [pest control] because they’re scared.” Yet aside from the cobra, most of these snakes are not deadly to humans. At worst, a bite from one of them would be very painful, and might require medical attention depending on the species – but it wouldn’t be fatal.
Where are you most likely to find a snake?
Many of Hong Kong’s snakes live by streams or in mountainous areas, so homes in the suburbs or countryside are more likely to play host to unwanted visitors. Areas with rats and mice also make attractive hunting grounds, while messy gardens provide plenty of good hiding places for snakes.
What should you do if you find a snake in your home?
First, identify it. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) has a field guide to venomous snakes and Sargent runs a Hong Kong Snakes Facebook page where people can share photos.
Once you’ve identified the snake, decide whether it poses an immediate danger to people or pets. If it doesn’t, leave it alone. If there is a way for the snake to leave by itself, odds are it will be gone by the next morning.
If not, call the police and they will send a snake catcher to take it away. However, this should be a last resort. Snakes like bamboo pit vipers need to be in familiar territory where they know the best hunting spots, and can starve to death if they are moved somewhere else.
How can you keep snakes out?
If you live in the countryside, you can’t completely prevent snakes from coming near your home. But you can reduce the chances. Keep outside areas tidy, and cut back grass and other plants to remove possible hiding places. Also, dispose of your rubbish properly to avoid attracting rodents aka snake supper.
How can you conquer your fear of snakes?
Despite snakebite deaths being almost non-existent in Hong Kong, many people are still scared of snakes. Sargent blames this on a lack of exposure.
“[People] don’t really have any interaction with snakes,” he says. “They just know that somewhere in the world snakes kill you and that’s the information they have.”
Luckily, there are many ways to become more comfortable around snakes. First of all, stop clicking on those YouTube videos titled “Man Swallowed by Giant Snake”. These stories are usually sensationalised, and are either accounts of freak accidents or outright false.
Secondly, do some proper research. There are plenty of online sources for learning about snakes. Kadoorie Farm does educational displays with live pythons. Better still are the night safaris organised by Hong Kong Snakes. Though they’re not cheap (HK$250 per person), these walking tours allow you to see and learn about snakes in their natural habitat, and even touch some non-venomous species. In time, you’ll learn to love your legless neighbours.
Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge