Gourmets devouring Thai snakes for sex
BANGKOK – Thai snakes might be creeping towards extinction because their popularity as an aphrodisiac and gourmet food is spiralling.
Only some species can be bred in captivity, an expert on snakes warned.
Poisonous snakes have a better chance of survival because they are bred for their serum.
“This matter needs co-operation from the Forestry Department and the Public Health Ministry. People must know snakes are crucial in biological, health and economic terms,” said Dr Montri Chiobamroongkiat, quality control chief at Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute.
The merit of snakes was clearly illustrated in 1997 when the institute, responding to a request by authorities in Ayutthaya, released over 200 snakes in September and October into ricefields as crops were being destroyed by rats.
He said the project was successful, thanks partly to intensive public relations about the benefit of snakes. Two species of non-poisonous snakes-copperhead ratsnake and Asiatic ratsnake-were used in the programme, as these were once naturally abundant in farmlands.
This year, another 100 snakes were released in Lop Buri to cut down the rat population. “The district chief in Ayutthaya has reported that rice output has increased dramatically. That is why other provinces are following suit,” Dr Montri said, adding that Ayutthaya now has a “no snake hunting” zone.
He admitted, however, that all the snakes released had to be bought because the institute had no capacity to breed all the species. “We only breed poisonous ones to produce serum.”
In the old days when leptospirosis or rat-urine disease was rare, snakes were abundant. Then chemicals became a major part of rice farming. These chemicals killed weeds and pests and also rats, which in turn became food for eagles, owls and snakes.
The predators were cut down by the toxic chemicals in their food but the rat population suffered only a temporary decline.
Now, with few natural predators in existence, the rat population has come back with a vengeance.