Snakes, Love Them Don't Hate Them
Environment TOBAGOFocus On Tobago´s Environment
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Snakes, Love Them Don't Hate Them

I recently rescued (yes rescued!) a Cascabel Dormillon also known as a Tree Boa. A smaller, tree dwelling cousin of the Macajuel. It had been “killed” and left for dead and was offered to me for identification. Imagine my surprise when I received a phone call, telling me that the snake had miraculously risen from the dead (on the third day no less), having only been stunned and not killed.

Thankfully I was given enough time to go collect the snake and release it back into the wild, far from human habitation. Hopefully he/she will make good on its second lease on life!

The beautiful Cascabel Dormillon (Corallus ruschenbergerii), a protected species.

Trinidad & Tobago has forty-seven different species of snakes, twenty-one of which are found right here in Tobago. Of our twenty-one species of Tobago snakes, three are found nowhere else in the world. Including the beautiful and increasingly rare Red Snake, Erythrolamprus ocellatus.

Snakes, although much maligned are very important companions on our planet. Particularly when it comes to controlling rats and other vermin. Inhabiting the nearby surroundings of my home (which I will not identify for fear of persecution of my snakes!) is the beautiful and ever greedy Rainbow Boa.

Beautiful because of the iridescent sheen on its body when sunlight shines on its scales. Greedy because they love to eat rats and lots of them too! These snakes are excellent at controlling rodent pests. They do such a good job, that I have never seen a rat or mouse in my home. Unfortunately I only see my rainbow boas when they are killed by some misunderstanding person who doesn’t realize what a good job the snakes are doing. Maybe an infestation of rats in their home will change their minds?

So why do we hate snakes so much? I know ‘hate’ is a strong word to use but in this case it seems justifiable. Generally speaking, people HATE snakes. Is it the way snakes look or how they move? Is it their flickering forked tongue or their unblinking eye? Or maybe it is that unforgivable act of tempting eve in the Garden of Eden? Even our sayings such as, “snake in the grass” or “speaking with a forked tongue” casts a negative light on these animals.

However on the flip side, for many of the same reasons that people ‘hate’ snakes, there are people that love snakes. People that can appreciate the beauty of an animal so well designed it has been around for millions of years, long before man and probably long after man is gone from this planet. Snakes are even kept as pets. Children show no fear of snakes or most things for that matter, and are taught to fear snakes and other animals by their elders. Why not teach our children to respect snakes and by extension our environment.

You can only imagine my parent’s horror when on a visit to the zoo at the tender age of six years old, I fell in love with snakes and no amount of deterring could stop me from reading, learning and eventually keeping snakes. In fact it was because of my love for snakes, that my interest in the natural world and conservation of our environment grew. Ironically, if one follows the Chinese calendar, I was born in the year of the snake… go figure!?

Much maligned in our western culture and by Christianity, snakes are embraced more readily by people of the ‘old world’ particularly in Africa, Asia and Australia. They represent fertility, rebirth, creation and of course death. There are over 10,000 deaths a year worldwide due to snakebite. Some happen by accident but most are caused when humans try to kill snakes and are bitten in the process. Even more reason to give our serpentine friends the respect they deserve.

Snake venom is a very complex mix of proteins and enzymes that can break down muscle tissue, dissolve blood and paralyze nerves that control breathing and the heart. Venom can have one or all of the effects mentioned above, it all depends on what the snake eats. Tobagonians need not worry, as we have no venomous snakes but yet we still continue to kill them. Even in nearby Trinidad with its four venomous snakes, I cannot tell you the last time it was reported that someone died of snakebite.

Snakes do not seek out humans neither for food or to attack us. In fact it is the other way around and this is where we come into conflict. Shrinking natural habitats due to development are bringing us more and more in contact not only with snakes but with other wildlife as well. Guess who the losers are? Some snakes make human habitats there home, happily living in our gardens until found and killed. Why? That old saying of human ignorance of course, “Snake is snake!”

Snakes need not be our enemies. We must recognize their value and respect them, not only for their useful service they provide us but also their right to occupy this planet.
They need us… We need them!
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