How Was Your Day … Snake Wrangler?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because sometimes it’s OK to talk to strangers.
By Leslie Nguyen-Okwu
In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”
Today was a quiet day as far as hunting snakes goes: two water snakes, a family of flying tree snakes and an Asian pit viper. That might sound like a lot of work, but I usually get around 10 calls a day. That’s when I’m running around the city, hunting for snakes that slither into living rooms, temples, storefronts and cars.
I got an emergency call this evening on my cellphone. Everyone has my number; even the police call me for advice. “Jingle Bells” is my ringtone for people who need to get rid of an unwanted snake. It’s also the only song that’s loud enough to hear over the noise of traffic when I’m outside — I’m 62 years old and my health is getting worse, my ears included. I got on my motorcycle and drove along Sukhumvit Road to a 7-Eleven with frightened clerks. I wasn’t scared, though. I like helping people. I always tell them: If you see a snake, don’t move. Don’t run. And please, don’t try to suck the venom.
Next time, I will not try to catch a snake that big from a tree.
I found a viper in the back of the store. It probably entered through the pipes — most snakes do. I walked up slowly to see whether or not it was dangerous. Bangkok has at least 17 snake species; in all of Thailand we have 200 species, but not all of them are venomous. People mostly call me about pythons. The snake in front of me and my assistant was a green viper. With my thick black gloves, I grabbed the snake just below its head. I get bitten almost every day, but today was a good one: no bites.
It was dark by the time I finished, so I took the snake home with me in a bag. Tomorrow, I’ll give it to the Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute or to the Thai Red Cross Society. Either place will extract the snake’s venom and make an antidote.
I like snakes. I don’t get paid; I’m a 30-plus-year volunteer with the police department. If I’m lucky, I get tips, but not all the time. I make money from my day job as a Marine Department messenger. That’s how I pay for all the travel costs. If the snake is too far away, I will decline. But I’ve been known to travel an hour outside of Bangkok for a snake. Thailand has so many: cat snakes, wolf snakes, sand snakes, water snakes, rat snakes and more. They don’t hunt humans. They hide along riversides, under buildings, up in trees. They eat the rats that live in the city’s sidewalk cracks, the rats that crawl into trash when it piles up before garbage days. Some also eat ants, roaches and termites. And after more than three decades of doing this, I know all of the different types of snakes. They bring balance; they’re exciting. We need snakes.
Except for this one Burmese python a few months ago … I got more than 200 puncture wounds from it. Next time, I will not try to catch a snake that big from a tree. I have my own homemade snake-catching tools — a snake-size lasso and a long rod from a paint roller — but they weren’t enough. I have scars all over my knuckles, chest and arms from the tens of thousands of snakes I have caught over the years. But even so, I have worse things to worry about: my failing kidneys, my biweekly dialysis, my stomach pains. I have blood transfusions every week. I wish I were stronger so I could catch more snakes.