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Thursday, May 8, 2008

A Thailand Snake Tale
Just in case you thought managing the clouded leopard breeding program at the Khao Kheow Open Zoo in Thailand sounded like an idyllic adventure, read this fascinating account of a run-in with some native wildlife by project manager Rick Passaro!

"All was quiet this particular afternoon up at the Breeding Center when we were startled by a sudden noise from Sak-daa's cage across the way. I went to check it out and saw he was keyed in on something moving in the brush out in his large enclosure like a hound on point. I knew it had to be something unusual since all of the cats here are fairly habituated to the more common mammals, birds, lizards and other assorted creatures we contend with on a daily basis. Then... I saw it. A snake. A big snake. No python this. It was a cobra. A King Cobra. Two meters at least and as thick as your wrist. And he was on his way to the next enclosure-Max and Jao Nai. YIKES! Instantly I thought, "Scaring it away is not an option, it has to be caught or we'd be forever worrying about where it would pop up next!" Killing it never crossed my mind.

I ran, grabbed a net and was in Sak-daa's cage in a flash trying to head off the beast, but I was too late. He'd already squeezed halfway through the wire into Max's cage next door. So, into Max's cage I go but now it heads back to Sak-daa's cage. I'm concerned about the little female Jao Ying in the small cage next to Sak-daa. Not yet a year old, one bite from this guy and she'd be dead in minutes. Which starts me to thinking: did he already bite Sak-daa? Was that the noise we heard? Is he dying right now? No time to think about that now! So, I head the thing off before it reaches Jao Ying all the while blocking his progress with my net and him periodically rearing up-perfectly hooded and aggressive as can be coming right at me! Each time I flee, I can't help but be taken by the beauty of this creature but still...scary. I finally herd him out through the wire and off he goes across a wide grassy area that leads directly to...OH NO!..the juvenile holding cages! Yikes! I zip out of the cage and sprint after him. After a few more lunge and chase episodes I eventually get him secured in the net. Whew!

Humm. Now let me see if I can't get him just a bit better situated in the folds of the net, then OH MY GOSH!!!!! Out he comes right into my face hooded and striking! Good thing there was at least a foot of hot humid Thai air between him and me or you'd be reading a different type of story right now-very different. And... I'm off and running again and he's RIGHT BEHIND ME giving chase. I'd always heard that King's were aggressive but... GEEZE!

So now he's again headed off towards the juvenile holding cages in earnest but luckily he can't fit through the small mesh of the cages, only through the larger mesh of the safety area of the newest cages we'd just built. Thankfully, the cats in these cages, Tawan and Wan Dee, don't come down to investigate the commotion. He can't get into their cages, but he's trying, oh yeah, he's trying. As he works his way along the fence line he's poking, poking, ever poking his nose into the mesh trying to find the least little opening he can squeeze into but he doesn't find a thing. I hold my breath as I notice the space beneath the gate leading into Wan Dee's cage that I'm sure he could get under but luckily he misses it. So now he HAS to come out the end gate and there I am ready and waiting for his slinky self. After a few more scary lunges I get him secured in the net once again, weight it down with bricks and call for help.

I am not making this up: A guy arrives on his motorcycle with only a snake hook and a seven year old boy. (Bait? I thought). However, he does an admirable job of getting the snake transferred from the net and safely secured into a sack and off they go...to the Children's Zoo! But of course!

Now, where in the heck did my keepers get to during all this...?

By the way, Sak-daa's just fine."

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