SINGAPORE: Waking up to the screams of his wife and maid, Mr Melvin Yap rushed to them, only to discover a snake coiled around the cage of his pet bird.
It was a reticulated python about 1.5m long - one of the most common species of snakes found in Singapore.
Although the incident occurred about two years ago, Mr Yap still has vivid memories of the snake.
“It was quite docile,” said Mr Yap, recalling how he calmly used a stick to coax the python into a plastic bag.
“Unless you know what you’re doing, the best thing is to avoid it. (But) I knew what kind of snake it was.”
After placing the snake into a tank, Mr Yap delivered it to animal welfare group Animal Concerns Research & Education Society (ACRES), where he handed the reptile to an employee on duty.
“(She) was very glad that we didn’t injure it. She said that sometimes people bring in the snake and the snake is injured, because people hit it,” he said.
In one case about a month ago, a python found at a factory in Jurong was abused so badly it had to be put down, ACRES said.
After eating three rats, the snake could not move, and the employees of the company kicked it and hit it with sticks. The python was in so much pain that it had to be euthanised.
In a highly publicised incident in January this year, a snake spotted outside Tang Plaza bit an employee from a pest control company, who stepped on the snake while capturing it.
Authorities said then that the snake had to be removed as it was in an area with high human traffic, but wildlife experts say that in many cases, it's best to leave the snake alone.
NATURAL CONTROL FOR RAT POPULATION
Most people may not be aware that snakes play a vital role in regulating Singapore’s ecosystem, said wildlife experts.
As an apex predator preying on small mammals like rats, reticulated pythons are a natural way of keeping pest numbers low.
“Pythons are an important biological control for local rat populations,” said Dr Sonja Luz, director of Conservation, Research and Veterinary Services at Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS).
She cited a study funded by WRS, which had found that reticulated pythons in Singapore eat mainly rats - 75 per cent of its diet is made up of rodents.
Removing the reptiles may thus result in more rats in the area, ACRES said.
“(Reticulated pythons) play a natural rodent population control, and removing and relocating them will directly affect the rodent population by increasing it,” said ACRES deputy chief executive Anbarasi Boopal.
ADAPTING TO URBAN LANDSCAPES
Both ACRES and WRS noted that reticulated pythons have adapted to the urban landscape by living in drains and canals, which allows them easy access to places with a high rat population, such as behind eateries and at refuse collection areas.
“Most often, sightings in deep large canals require no rescue as it is considered their natural habitat here,” said Ms Boopal.
She added that ACRES receives about one call a day related to pythons. Many involve pythons in their natural habitats, and conflict situations only arise when people try to harass or attack the python, she added.
“Pythons have no reason to approach humans or attack them. Only when threatened, cornered or handled wrongly, will they give a defensive lunge or a bite – which can be easily avoided if people leave them alone,” she said.
She advised members of the public to leave snakes alone, especially if they are spotted in their natural habitats in trees, drains or green spaces.
People should call the ACRES wildlife rescue hotline for help only when snakes are found in urban areas outside of their natural habitats.
Many people have a "negative perception" of snakes because of natural fear and what they see on television and documentaries, she said.
“In our experience, most of the conflict situations have happened only because uninformed public have tried to pull or drag a python out of their resting spot, or tried to capture/tie-up or contain on their own,” she said.
“Many pythons have been killed by humans in Singapore out of fear.”