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Experiencing Hong Kong’s snake safari

Editor’s Note — Monthly Ticket is a CNN Travel collection that spotlights a few of the most fascinating matters within the journey world. In October, we shift our focus to the offbeat, highlighting all the things from (allegedly) haunted areas to deserted locations.
Hong Kong (CNN) — A fraction of a second after William Sargent’s torch gentle 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 called Bungarus multicinctus, a species coated in zebra-like black and white stripes that’s one in every of most venomous snakes on this planet.

“This one is a real beauty, it’s stunning,” says Sargent, sweat gathering on his forehead as he strains to maintain the energetic reptile from slithering out of his grasp. “If there was an elite model for snakes, this would be right up there. But this is the one you really don’t want to get bitten by. If not treated, you could have respiratory failure and die.”

Since 2017, Sargent, a police-approved snake knowledgeable, has been working nocturnal so-called “Snake Safaris” via the verdant, biodiverse terrains of Hong Kong comparable to Tai Mo Shan Country Park — house to the town’s highest peak within the northern New Territories area — taking tons of of daring guests alongside yearly.

The Brit moved to the 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. Besides fulfilling his personal curiosity, the guided excursions are a means for Sargent to fight stigma, enhance consciousness and construct appreciation of snakes.

“The vast majority of snakes that show up in your house don’t want to live there. It’s just by circumstance, like a fish jumping in your boat,” he says. “If you’re sensible, there’s nothing to be afraid of. But sadly, many snakes are killed because of fear.”

While Hong Kong is a world metropolis practically as giant as Los Angeles, containing a few of the most densely populated districts on this planet, about 40% of its landmass is protected nation parks, which means its 7.3 million residents typically come into contact with wildlife, together with greater than 50 snake species within the metropolis — from the doubtless lethal King Cobra to the Burmese Python, which may develop to over 26 toes.

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

Dale de la Rey/South China Morning Post/Getty Images

“Given its size, Hong Kong has a disproportionately high number of snakes,” says Dr. Sung Yik-hei, a professor at Lingnan University and one of many metropolis’s foremost reptile specialists. “That’s because of the city’s great variety of habitats: mountains, coastal areas, lowlands, wetlands, and freshwater streams.”

Despite 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 likelihood of encountering a snake is not low,” provides Sung. “But the chance of getting bitten is very low. Even if you are, Hong Kong is one of the safest places in the world for snakebites because of the quality and proximity of hospitals.”

For his half, Sargent receives callouts each week to seize snakes in all places from colleges to prisons to houses, and as soon as, a seashore on Lantau Island to ensnare a 15-foot python. As of August, he is the primary knowledgeable to take part in a “Rapid Release Program” — which means that fairly than should 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 holding the snakes far more healthy.

That coverage change has confirmed an uphill battle amid a fancy cultural context.

In Hong Kong, snakes are eaten in a soup, utilized in conventional Chinese drugs, or are in any other case merely seen as a menace. The result’s that throughout China practically all the bigger snake species are labeled as susceptible, threatened or endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List, which tracks the conservation standing of the world’s plant and animal species.

But due to Sargent — who has given talks at native colleges and arrange a Facebook group, Hong Kong Snakes (whose 15,000 members alternate images, data and recommendation about snake encounters) — snakes are shedding that fearful repute.

One tour attendee and member of the Facebook group, Michelle Yu, who moved to Hong Kong from Washington DC 9 years in the past, says that her notion of snakes has utterly reworked due to the neighborhood. “You go from being repulsed to actively looking out for these beautiful creatures,” she explains.

For others, the expertise underlines the distinctive contrasts obtainable in Hong Kong: towering skyscrapers beside unique nature. “You get this great feeling that you can escape from the city,” says Loïc Sorgho, a 42-year-old French banker. “Where else can you go from a 50-floor building to a tropical jungle so quickly?”

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 higher inexperienced; and the many-banded krait, whose diaphanously mushy midriff Sargent holds out for attendees to stroke. “Please don’t touch any further than half way up its body please,” he quips. “It won’t do my insurance any good.”

And there’s 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 shiny orange and crimson blotches.

Towards the tip 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’s trying to get its rear fangs into me,” he says, moments earlier than being bitten on one fingertip. “Ouch! It’s pretty toxic to geckos, but I’ll be fine.”

Once launched, the snake, which has whitish yellow diamond markings working 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 evening.

Photo: William Sargent handles a snake. Image by Adam Francis.

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