Sunday February 10, 2013
By N. RAMA LOHAN
They make most people’s skin crawl, but with the right perspective, snakes are simply gorgeous creatures who’ve also inherited the earth.
THE snake is one of my two favourite animals in the Chinese Zodiac calendar (the other being the tiger). I love snakes, always have ... and probably always will.
I can’t really figure out why, but I guess it has something to do with my love for animals in general. Ever since I was a kid, I was drawn to the creepy crawlies ... snakes, centipedes, millipedes, spiders, lizards (big and small).
I would turn rocks over and “discover new species of bugs”, prise open the bark of tree stumps to find little scorpions, jump into monsoon drains to catch guppy fish and tadpoles, dig the earth to ... unearth worms. In retrospect, I think I was a pretty destructive kid. I gave some critters a harrowing time, but on the flipside, this also contributed to my innate love for the animal kingdom.
After “graduating” from these smaller creatures, I harboured hopes of seeing snakes in the wild (I’m still hoping to see crocodiles and sharks this way, my two other favourite animals).
I must have caught a few garden snakes in my lifetime, and even at an early age (after watching the few miserable documentaries they would’ve shown on RTM 1 and 2 in the 1980s), I picked up on the art (well, my own version of it, anyway) of handling a snake. What was clear was, never hold a snake by the tail – it will turn to bite.
So, when I caught my first garden snake, I put my hand in a slipper and pinned the snake’s head down against the grass (please don’t try this at home), then wriggled my other hand underneath and gently grabbed the snake by the collar. I caught my first snake when I was 11. Naturally, I released it minutes later ... but not before scaring the pants off my sister and mum with it.
The highlight of my younger days though, was when I helped a tractor operator capture a 12-foot reticulated python in my neighbour’s house. That snake was an absolute beauty. The hypnotic design and colours on its coat almost got me cross-eyed.
The two of us employed the same technique to capture the snake ... he pinned its head down with a plank while I yanked the reptile out from under the mound of coconut husks it was hiding in.
Truth be told though, there was a point when excitement gave way to gripping fear. When I had pulled half the snake out by its tail, it began to use its lower body to coil around my arm. I remember my mum and aunt screaming through the fence from my house to let it go, but of course I didn’t.
In a sequence of events I have yet to be able to explain, the snake seemed to know it was defeated. The neighbour pak cik slipped one of those plastic rice bags through the window of his kitchen to me, not daring to venture out. I placed the bag in front of the snake’s head and it slithered in by itself. All I had to do was help it move the rest of its torso into the sack.
What happened to the snake from my Tarzan adventure of 1991? All I wanted was for my dad to take a picture of either me or the whole family with the snake draped across our necks. And since he only got back home late in the evening, he suggested we do it the next day, under better light.
I left the bag slightly open under our mango tree at home, fearing the snake wouldn’t get enough air otherwise. Some time in the night, it escaped, and thankfully, didn’t take either of my dogs along with it. Days later, my neighbour informed us that a couple of Dewan Bandaraya Ipoh workers had discovered a huge python in the monsoon drain near my house (while my family and I were away for the holidays) and killed it, hoping to convert their kill into a commodity.
Sure, grown men don’t cry, but at 16, I squirted some. I went to great lengths to capture that snake alive, and all I wanted was a lousy picture, then I was going to release it at a nearby waterfall, but it was not to be.
My most recent brush with a snake was four months ago. Following a gig with my band, a bandmate and I were heading for supper in the wee hours of the morning.
As we passed a condominium around Bandar Utama, Petaling Jaya, a snake tried to cross the road. I immediately made my friend stop his car, jumped out and stopped traffic to allow the snake to cross.
When it began to take forever, I tapped the snake (which, under the dimness of street lights, looked like a baby python) on its tail to coax it to hurry up.
It twitched and moved faster every time I did so, but the line of cars was growing. In a haste, I tried to do the old “catch it by the collar” stunt when the snake snapped at me and tried to bite, but I recoiled just in time.
That’s when I looked at it closer, only to realise that it was a Malaysian pit viper, a very poisonous snake that could kill or at least seriously injure a human being. At least this snake was lucky enough. It crossed the road, slithered into a large monsoon drain and went along its merry way.
So, why do I love snakes? Well, it’s because they’re beautiful animals. And because of man’s fear of these misunderstood creatures, we’ve always overlooked their significance and inherent beauty.
So, instead of killing them out of fear or for trade, let’s just leave them be, shall we. Like every other animal in the world, they have a place on earth, too.