Thursday, February 21, 2008

WARNING: snakes below

With the excuse of needing to do some novel research I took L, our backpacker, to the Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute and Snake Farm today. I LOVE the snake farm.

Thailand is home to more than 180 venomous snakes (Eeeek). The farm opened in 1923 to manufacture anti-venoms from a dependable supply of healthy snakes to treat snake bite victims in the region. As well as being a great tourist trip (you get to hold a python at the end) the Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute is an important research centre. It makes rabies immunoglobulin, manufactures a tuberculosis vaccine (BCG) and collaborates with the World Health Organisation.

And it’s slap bang in the middle of Bangkok.

Since I was last there (a year ago) they’ve opened a new building and display, so I was pretty excited to see the new facilities. L and I pottered around the grounds looking in the snake housing. Sometimes there are piles of gigantic snakes lying on top of each other and in other containers you had to play ‘hunt the snake’. I get quite uncomfortable at finding a display cabinet with no resident inside; it makes me a tad nervous. Some of the snake enclosures have glass in them, and others are recessed in the ground and open in a kind of snake pit environment (apparently these snakes can’t climb hence the lack of barrier! Eeeek again.)

We stopped by a third container that had a double layer of metal grid keeping the snakes in. I pushed my nose up to the grid to see inside, while L grumbled at not being able to photograph the residents. All of a sudden something fell on my shoulder and I start screaming and dancing like a girl, which makes L start squealing and hopping on the spot too. It only lasts for a second or two before I realise it was a large leaf, but it got my blood pumping.

In the centre of the public part of the snake farm is the recessed snake pit and on either side is concrete seating in amphitheatre style, where they do the snake handing demonstration. ‘Oooh’ I say to L, ‘I’ve never sat in the front row; let’s get a seat early and you’ll get the best pictures from there.’

The first snake in the handling demo is the largest venomous snake in the world, the King Cobra, brought out by a Thai who looked about thirteen. ‘He’s an experienced handler’ the lady taking the demo said, and I felt sure it was okay, because he was wearing rubber boots to protect his feet! (Thai health and safety is very … well, on with the story). I’m sure it’s all part of the show but that King Cobra – he got a bit frisky. The underage handler starts taunting the snake a bit to show us his hood flare out in aggressive manner, and then he appears to lose his grip on the back end of the cobra. ‘Don’t move’ the lady shouts at us ‘they sense movement.’ King Cobra slithers about, ably demonstrating flared hood defensive mode. He rears up three feet high and coming horribly close to my toes, which I can’t move because they’re not well protected in flip flops! L and I are backing into the legs of the people behind us. Juvenile handler boy appears to be unable to regain control of deadly, stroppy looking snake. Just as I beg, out loud, to please catch that critter, surely spoiling the video of the folk with the cramped legs behind us, adolescent handler boy catches King Cobra’s head from behind and he is dramatically whisked away.

Anyway, it’s all extremely exciting; my adrenalin levels are sky high. I discover (slightly to my disappointment) that the characters in my book are most likely to encounter in Bangkok this rather diminutive green snake. However, as I process the information ‘She is little but she is fierce’ comes into my head, a quote from Shakespeare for how I describe one of my characters. Not so bad after all, as this little emerald reptile is a pit viper – “venomous and dangerous” says my snake book – rather like the character in my story.


SueG said...

Yikes! Amazing! I love the things we do in the name of research! :)

Helen Shearer said...

You are insane! You don't have to put yourself in grave danger in the name of research. There must be a million snake websites out there. Having said that, I might have done the same. Nothing like a good adrenaline rush:)

Leigh said... get to hold a python at the end.

Which end? I hope it's the one that doesn't bite.

Angie said...

OMG, JJ, I would be jumping and screaming with the leaf incident too, and I cannot believe you sat in the front row so close to the danger! Eek.
Tantalizing bits of description about your character though...

Carol and Chris said...

I would have paid money to see you 'screaming and dancing like a girl'....I think that would have been very very funny!!

The show sounds fab - must really try to go sometime (although I have a feeling that I might be sitting at the back....chicken??

C x

JJ said...

Sue, I know, completely bonkers.

Helen, it's the adrenaline. I love the snake farm because it's so scary... mad.

Leigh, oh both ends of the python, but they aren't venomous - they just squeeze you to death if they're hungry!

Angie, there's clearly a very good reason why we've never sat in the front row before. I aged 10 years yesterday!

Carol, I'm sorry you missed my hysteria - you would've had a good laugh. Tell me if you go to the Snake Farm, I'll come again.


wordtryst said...

'...screaming and dancing like a girl'...

I got a good laugh at my vision of you trying to evade the attack by that deadly leaf.