We have 52 different snake species in Hong Kong, and this article simply sets out to identify the most common dangerous and venomous snakes of HongKong (er, that snake ID is in part II coming tomorrow).
Here some intrepid "herpers" rescue a Burmese Python caught in a drain.
Not everyone wants to get as close to the snakes here in Hong Kong as these nutters above.....(Will, Jack and Dan), but almost all of us who live, or walk, in the countryside have seen a snake, so the big question is “are we safe?” The short answer is yes, no-one has died from a wild snakebite in Hong Kong for many decades, but there are around 30 recorded snake bites a year across the territory, so we should be vigilant and careful, and a confirmed snake ID is an essential tool tool to help doctors in case of envenomation. (I would add dogs seem particularly at risk from bites, as they have an inquisitive nature and often lack any sense to keep away).
Soooo, to kick this article off, we answer some basic FAQ’s:
1. Do snakes come out at night? Yes, in fact most species are nocturnal.
2. How many kinds of venomous and deadly snakes are there in Hong Kong? Six land species can inflict life endangering bites:- the Banded Krait, the Many Banded Krait, Chinese Cobra, King Cobra, Coral Snake, and The Red-necked Keelback. The two other venomous snakes - both pit vipers, the Bamboo and Mountain Pit Viper - have bites that can cause extreme pain and swelling. Six other snakes have venom fangs at the back of the jaw, but are not known to produce much reaction in humans. The Common Rat Snake and the Burmese Python are not venomous, but do get very large, and their teeth can cause nasty cuts and gashes.
3. How can I tell venomous & non-venomous snakes apart? There is NO easy way to tell them apart, unless you actually know the snakes...and even then ID is not always clear in the heat of the moment.
4. How far can a snake strike? Generally a snake can only strike with authority within a distance of one-half its body length. Remember, most snakes -- even venomous ones -- are not aggressive and would rather avoid a confrontation with people.
5. How can I keep snakes out of my house? Close cracks and crevices in building exterior walls and floors and around pipes and utility connections. All doors and windows should have tightly fitting screens. Add weatherstripping around exterior door frames.
6. Yikes, I have a snake in my garden/house, what should I do? If you are not comfortable then it is a good idea to have it removed, by calling the police on 999 who will then contact a paid snake collector. It then goes for release to Kadoorie Farm and they deserve a BIG “well done” both to the government and Kadoorie Farm for putting in place a police coordinated rescue service.
7. Oh dear, it bit me! Now what?
(Thanks to Tommy for posing for this shot, even as the snake held on and had a good chomp. No snakes were harmed in the writing of this article, but clearly this is not true for the humans in involved).
If you are ever bitten Dial 999 and get to a hospital/seek medical care without delay. Don’t try to suck the venom out. Don't cut the skin around the wound. Don’t apply a tourniquet. The British Army recommend a pressure bandage/piece of cloth around the bite as well as above and below the bite. A confirmed snake ID is an essential tool tool to help doctors.
7. How do I learn more about snakes in Hong Kong? Firstly sign up on the excellent facebook page “Hong Kong Snakes”, which has helped so many already with their fears, full of good information, advice, and a real community feel.
Secondly, go out with a professional herpetologist or guide who can help find snakes and also explain essential ethical practices, including handling, capture and release.
Will Sargent and Dave Willott both offer superb tours, and their details can be found on the Facebook page.
Also, follow my daily blog for more information as I will do tour related blogs sometime in the future: www.wildcreatureshongkong.org.
Tomorrow I'll be posting an easy step by step guide to how to easily identify the venomous land snakes of HK.
CAVEAT:- We cannot be responsible for readers’ inaccuracy of identifying snakes based on this guide. There are many variables that go into identifying a snake properly, and even experts can make mistakes. Do not use this guide to help you decide whether it is safe to touch or pick up a snake. Leave snakes alone, and stay outside of striking or spitting distance (3-5meters).