Activists pan zoo's python-petting ploy
The China Post news staffTAIPEI, Taiwan -- A new Taipei Zoo exhibit allowed guests to pet a ball python yesterday, drawing heavy fire from a local animal rights group.
January 20, 2013, 12:04 am TWN
The Taipei Zoo (台北市立動物園) cut the ribbon yesterday on a new showcase — “Yes SSSSS! Taipei Zoo Special Exhibit” — that will run through the Year of the Snake. The exhibit features visual displays and some 15 live specimens.
On its opening day yesterday, a zoo staffer held a ball python and invited guests to “touch, not grab” the animal. Some children hung back, but the snake soon drew a sizeable crowd. During the half-hour petting session, the handler enveloped the ball python in cloth to reduce its anxiety.
This particular ball python has been in captivity for more than a decade and is in fact very tame, stressed Chen Szu-lung (陳賜隆), curator of the Amphibian and Reptile House.
The ball python gets its name for its tendency to curl up into a ball. Some handlers like to drape a ball python around their neck, which can cause the snake a great deal of discomfort, said Chen.
That's why sometimes ball pythons display aggression, he said, adding that the snake's fierce reputation is mostly a misunderstanding.
Chen debunked other “snake myths,” such as the belief that only snakes with triangular heads are venomous, and that sprinkling lime along a path dispels snakes. Poisonous or not, most snakes have a triangular head, and beating a stick on a path is the best way to dispel a snake, he said.
Saturday's exhibit showcased about a dozen other live snakes, including the Chinese Mountain Pitviper (阿里山龜殼花), the Chinese tree viper (青竹絲) and the big-eyed ratsnake (過山刀), dubbed the “fastest snake in the East.”
An animal protection group decried the petting session, calling it a “laughable” program of questionable educational value.
As an institution of social education, a zoo should be teaching people to not stigmatize snakes and to not arbitrarily touch wildlife, said Chen Yu-min (陳玉敏), director of the Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan (EAST, 台灣動物社會研究會)
“Instead, the zoo is telling children, 'So long as it makes you happy, you are free to touch the animal,'” Chen said.
Moreover, by asking children to touch the snake, zoo handlers are “bullying a snake with a gentle temperament,” she said.
She added that there are a range of teaching props that match the texture of a snake's body. The Taipei Zoo did not need to use live specimens, and only did so as a “gimmick to boost ticket sales,” according to Chen.