BANGKOK – Firefighters in Thailand learn a lot more than just putting out fires, as the homes of Bangkok residents face alarming rates of invasions by snakes, forcing firemen to learn the art of serpent catching.
As firefighter Phinyo Pukphinyo, 47, prepared on Wednesday his snake-catching gear of a metal cage and plastic containers, he readied himself for the first emergency call of the day.
After responding to such a call on Tuesday, Phinyo found a python in the corner of a Bangkok house, and using only his bare hands, grabbed the snake’s head from behind, an epa journalist reported on Wednesday.
The python then coiled around his hand and Phinyo was able to place it inside a cage, from which the snake opened its mouth wide as a sign of intimidation.
The reptile was the catch of the day for the crew of firemen from the Bangkok Fire and Rescue Department who in recent years have found themselves coming to terms with the new reality in the Thai capital: snake invasions.
Phinyo confirmed to epa that the BFRD had received almost 30,000 calls in 2016 reporting snakes found hidden in peoples’ homes.
“We have about 2,000-3,000 calls in a week reporting on snakes found in the house alone, and last year the calls were at almost 30,000.”
“Seventy percent of the snakes we caught were pythons. They are the protected animal under the Animal Protection Act so our job is to deliver them to the Department of National Parks and Wildlife.”
“The rest of the snakes caught were cobras and other venomous types and we delivered them to the Thai Red Cross to produce the antivenin,” a serum which can treat poisonous snake bites.
“Other non-venomous snakes we caught were released in areas away from the residential areas,” Pukphinyo said.
The BFRD confirmed the rising numbers of snakes caught in the capital. There were 16,920 snakes caught in 2014, while in 2015 and 2016, the figures were 24,559 and 29,919, respectively.
In the first five months of this year alone, 10,246 snakes had been caught, according to the department’s website.
Several factors have contributed to this trend. The number of emergency calls usually spike in the rainy season as snakes try to find dry and cool places to lay their eggs. Under the roofs of human’s homes often are the best option for the snakes.
Piles of trash in houses, as well as around Bangkok increase the number of rodents, one of the main food sources for snakes, the department said.
The BFRD advises several preventive measures including trimming tree branches, installing filters in underground water pipes to restrict snakes’ access and cleaning the house and clearing up dark corners where snakes can hide.
Details on how to differentiate between venomous and non-venomous snakes are also available on the website.
Venomous ones can be identified by their triangular-shaped skulls, while the non-venomous ones usually have round skulls.
Venomous cobras stand out for their unique display of their “hood” as they rise up and flatten their head when preparing to attack.
The department prioritizes the safety of both family members and the reptiles. Instructions on the website say people should never try to catch snakes by themselves but should call emergency number 199, while keeping children and pets in a safe place as they wait for the rescue personnel to arrive.