Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Beware! Snake skin spotted in Ang Mo Kio

UPDATE: The title of the post has been amended to Snake skin found in AMK: Other snakes still around?

Beware! Snake skin spotted in Ang Mo Kio

Is this snake skin? That is what STOMPer S.Eswari thinks it is. She said she spotted it on the grass patch next to the bus stop at Ang Mo Kio Avenue 4 this morning (January 20).

S.Eswari would like to remind all residents in the area to beware of snakes while walking.

She says:

"It was just next to the bus stop along Ang Mo Kio Avenue 4, near block 256.

"I saw it at about 7am this morning on my way to work.

"It looks like the skin of a Cobra.

"The public should beware while walking with their children or their pets around this area."
Related post: 10 ft python found at Pasir Ris HDB void deck (15th January 2009)
Snake found in Yuan Ching Sec (7th February 2009)

I'm not sure how the person who submitted this post managed to deduce that the skin was that of a cobra. I believe that it's just as likely to have been shed by any of the various harmless snake species which might be encountered from time to time in urban areas.

One thing I strongly take issue with is the warning for residents to beware of snakes. I find it unnecessary, even ridiculous that the fear of snakes seems so deeply entrenched in the Singaporean psyche. But then again, I know of people who are terrified of harmless house geckos (F. Gekkonidae).

While it is true that there is some degree of risk with snakes living in urban Singapore, the danger has been greatly exaggerated. I am certain that the number of people injured or killed in automobile accidents in Singapore every year far exceeds the number of people who land in hospital due to snakebite. There's so many ways to die in urban Singapore, and it really is excessive and borderline paranoid to get all hot and bothered just because somebody finds the shed skin of a snake. To use an imperfect analogy, it's like worrying about catching avian influenza just because there are birds flying around.

Unfortunately for the snakes, this fear leads to a lot of erroneous information and beliefs that simply have no place in modern-day Singapore. Perhaps one reason why snakes are rarely if ever encountered is because of the fact that most snakes which are careless enough to be spotted by people soon become the victim of unnecessary and needless persecution, even when it involves inoffensive and virtually harmless species such as oriental whip snake (Ahaetulla prasina) and striped keelback (Xenochrophis vittatus).

Let's just face it: there is a strong likelihood that snakes are already living everywhere in urban Singapore, regardless of whether residents are aware of their presence or not. Whether it's reticulated pythons (Broghammerus reticulatus) lurking in our sewers in search of rats, or house wolf snakes (Lycodon capucinus) hunting for geckos at the void deck, various species of snakes are very much a part of our urban fauna, and I think it would be better to be realistic about the risks involved.

Among those snakes which might be encountered in urban areas, parks and gardens, I think only three species - the equatorial spitting cobra (Naja sumatrana), banded Malayan coral snake (Calliophis intestinalis) and the reticulated python, can be considered to pose any significant threat to the lives of humans and pet cats and dogs.

But besides these three species, there is a wide variety of other snake species which might be found living in close proximity to humans. These include the brahminy blind snake (Ramphotyphlops braminus), sunbeam snake (Xenopeltis unicolor), oriental whip snake, paradise tree snake (Chrysopelea paradisi), various species of bronzebacks (Dendrelaphis spp.), house wolf snake, striped kukri snake (Oligodon octolineatus), and striped keelback. By and large, these are small, relatively harmless species that pose virtually no threat to humans; in fact, I'm sure that most cats and dogs would have little difficulty dispatching such snakes. Also, I'm not implying that one will never find other species of snakes in the garden or park, especially for people living close to forests, but it is likely that any snake encountered in an urban or suburban area will belong to one of the above-mentioned species.

Of course, this doesn't mean that one can go around picking up snakes with bare hands; many of these species do possess a mild venom, and getting bitten, even by a nonvenomous species, is definitely not a pleasant way to get acquainted with urban snakes. But still, it is hardly the life-threatening experience that most people assume it to be.

So you have snakes living in your neighbourhood. Big deal. There's no point getting paranoid and losing sleep over that; chances are, you probably have a higher chance of getting killed by a falling flowerpot than dying from a cobra bite anyway.