April and Kevin in Kuna Yala, the northeast coast of Panamá

Friday, June 20, 2008

Snakes alive? (Video)

I feel a bit like a bad luck charm for snakes...there are few snakes that see islanders and live to tell the tale.

I find that people on the island seem to have more fear than knowledge about wildlife in general and snakes in particular. They tend to kill every snake that they see and many of the animals too. Every time they kill a snake they look at its mouth and head. They are curious about the snakes but fearful of them. They assume that it is venomous even when it is clearly a boa that kills by constriction.

Recently our neighbors encountered a 7-foot boa in the vacant house nearby, chopped its head with a machete, and carried it by our house on their way to dispose of it by the shore. We asked to see it, and then we talked about why snakes don't all have to be killed. We used the opportunity to talk about what this snake eats and how often and what alternatives they have to killing it. We also talked about how to tell a venomous snake from a non-venomous snake.

Since the snake's head was only split, and the snake was clearly responsive to stimulous and still writhing 20 to 30 minutes after they'd hit it, we chopped the head off to end (our feelings for) its pain. This video was taken probably 20 to 30 minutes after that. All the motion you see is after beheading and is reflexive.

You can see from the video that it was a large snake...more than 4 inches wide at its widest point. It showed all the distinticve signs of being a boa: squarish and stout muscular body that doesn't taper much before the tail, narrow slightly bulbus head, and sets of small inward pointing teeth...no big fangs for venom. In my experience, most people do not have enough knowledge to look for these traits. Seeing the differences is the first step towards thinking about whether or not to kill a snake.

When our neighbor Elvis touches the snake in the video it is likely the first time that he has touched a moving (even if dying) snake; he touched it after seeing me do so first, before that he touched it only with a stick. It is my hope that conversations like this one will result in the future in them coming to get me to show me a live snake...maybe even a snake that could be lucky enough to survive the viewing.

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