A friend discovered a snake on his balcony the other day and asked me what it was. With alternate broad bands of yellow and black and a triangular-shaped body, it could only have been a banded krait. Fortunately, he stood well back and allowed the creature to slither away into the garden. I say fortunately because all kraits are extremely venomous. Snakes like to live near water, but the recent downpour may have left this one seeking higher ground.
But let’s not get too alarmist. I’m sure that all you readers out there have had encounters of the serpentine kind, but remember that snakes normally only attack when cornered or threatened. Most varieties in your flower beds and shrubs will be harmless – rat snakes, kukris, wolf, rat and cat snakes, racers, or slender whip snakes – and the one I see most often on my patch – golden tree snakes. These beautifully patterned bright green reptiles can actually ‘fly’ from tree to tree by flattening their slender bodies.
There are downsides apart from the venom. I happen to like snakes, but they are voracious predators, and just one in your garden will rapidly denude your personal paradise of its agamid and garden fence lizards, its ground-hugging sun skinks. A snake that resides unseen inside my roof space gobbles up any straying geckos, and even my resident tokay gecko, a fierce creature in its own right, has stopped calling out “Tok-kay” to announce his evening presence.
At the other end of the scale are the heavyweights of the reptile kingdom. Several times, I have had to stop my pick-up while a water monitor crossed the road. One of the largest lizards in the world – up to nine feet in length – it inhabits watery areas all over Phuket. A denizen of mangrove as well as inland swamps, it can have a delicately patterned skin, but more often the adults are grey.
Particularly fond of carrion, it is attracted to garbage tips. Sadly, and as with snakes, monitors are easy pickings: killed both for their meat and for their valuable hides.
As for the real monsters, Phuket has its share. I am thinking of huge, iridescent reticulated pythons – one measuring more than twenty feet in length was recently captured and subsequently released by the Kusoldharm foundation. Needless to say, it had gobbled up all the local chickens. But they will tackle much larger fare, including wild pigs.
And let’s not forget the cobras and king cobras, the latter being by far the largest venomous snake in the world. Not to worry. They are nocturnal and shy, hiding by day and very unlikely to invade your patch.
Additionally, they are more threatened by us than we by them. Loss of habitat is a major problem for them. A friend residing at Phuket Royal Marina was in the habit of daily visiting a lagoon nearby to watch the waders and especially a massive water monitor. All too soon, the lagoon was filled in. Why? For ‘development’ – to the consequent exodus of all the wildlife.