Many Kiwis, Hawaiians, and Europeans who recently moved to Asia like to tell me how wonderful Asia is and how much they love living in Asia. But there is this one specific nightmare that is bothering them – snakes.
I say it’s fair enough to have snakes here. As the largest continent on earth and being warm and bushy, why would you not think there would be snakes in here? Not trying to scare you but I can easily name some venomous snakes in Asia – King cobra and many other cobras, kraits, coral snakes, sea snakes, Russell’s viper, and saw-scaled viper – all deadly. If you believe bright-colored snakes are more dangerous then I have to tell you, no. Most of the deadly snakes I mentioned are in dull colors from brown, gray to black. Ironically, the bright-colored venomous snakes in Asia are usually not deadly, such as the Asian pit vipers of the genus Trimeresurus. Here are a few I have encountered:
Most of the species are bright green like this:
An unusual one can be blue like this:
There are also a few exceptional dark ones like this:
Ouroboros (or uroboros) — an ancient symbol depicting a reptile eating its own tail. It symbolizes fertility in some religions. The tail is a phallic symbol (an erect penis). The mouth is a yonic (vagina) or womb-like symbol.
In real life, it happens.
Although not common, I have seen snakes eating themselves. Scientifically, autocannibalism (self-cannibalism) in snakes is not normal. Well so, snakes get disoriented when overheated, and their metabolism goes into overdrive. It makes the snakes feel so hungry to the point that they will try to eat the first moving thing they see, and that’s usually their own tail. When the feeding mechanism starts, snakes will have their focus fully on consuming the prey. The feeling of pain will be overridden. Many snakes will keep going even if they’re bit, mauled, and even beheaded.
You can see why ancient Egyptians chose snakes to symbolize the eternal cycle of life, death, and rebirth.
Yes, this is one of the rare succulents “trending” recently especially in Asia. Keeping them in pots at home is a really good hobby. Finding wild ones in their natural habits is just on another level.
Even photos of wild ones are not as easy to find as most other objects.
Here is one of the wild elephant’s foot plants I came across in Isalo, Madagascar.
It looks like Pachypodium rosulatum var. gracilius to me (but I have not studied botany so please correct me if I’m wrong)
All my field trips were fauna-focused hence I didn’t have much time to spend on the plants in Madagascar. (The animals kept me busy all the time) But I was just amazed by this unique plant I almost walked past by.
Also, the animals I studied rely largely on their unique habitats in Madagascar. Gotta have an idea about these interesting plants.
Only after I climbed up this mountain I could be eligible to comment on that mountain behind me.
Isalo is in the southwestern corner of the Province of Fianarantsoa, in the Ihorombe region. It is 720 km away from Madagascar’s capital city (Antananarivo). Not super far but due to road conditions it took me 3 full days to only get there. It’s for sure worth it.
Being completely different from the rest of Madagascar, Isalo is arid and hot, filled with deep canyons, sandstone domes, and flat-topped mountains.
Not as many animals here comparing to the rest of Madagascar. Mostly lemurs, desert lizards, boas, scorpions, and birds. Landscape and plants are uniquely amazing though. Over 70% of plants are endemic. This is exactly where the Elephant’s foot plants in my photos were.
Believe it or not? Aliens are everywhere in Hong Kong. There must be some around you. Of course, I am talking about alien species – the plants or animals introduced outside their original distributions. From mile-a-minute weed, water hyacinth, to house cockroaches, red fire ants, apple snails, to tilapia, and the vertebrates I mention below. Like it or not, we have many non-native species living here in Hong Kong, while some are thriving.
Are aliens invasive?
Ones that are not native to here can be called alien species, introduced species, or exotic species. Ones that have developed a stable wild population and are causing harm to the local ecosystem are called invasive species. Introduced snakes and huge monitor lizards may sound scary to most people. But in fact, cats could do much more harm. Studies found each feral cat kills an average of 576 native birds, reptiles, and mammals per year.
Even those that are not causing significant harm to nature but to human health, other valued resources, or the economy are called invasive species.
How did they end up here?
There are 3 major ways exotic species could possibly go into our natural environment:
Released or escaped pets
Released or escaped food animals
Coming along in shipping containers
Most environmentalists would tell you most of the invasive species are escaped or released pets. I don’t know why they say that without any numbers. It may be easy to link them together when you see all these exotic species in the wild and you see the same species in the pet trade. But, hold on a second, scientists and experts shouldn’t make assumptions.
The exotic pet trade really is to blame?
Not to say that there are no escaped or released pets, there sure are, but the number should be way smaller than those from either of the other ways.
I’m not a fan of linking animals and money together. Actually this is the very last thing I want to talk about. But in regard to this matter, it is really about money, directly. So, there’s a price for every exotic pet in the trade. For some reason when exotic pet owners can’t help but have to get rid of their pets, they could sell them for money instead of releasing them for nothing. There are very few species with a greater supply than demand, usually the low-priced ones such as Red-eared sliders. The majority of exotic pets are easy to sell. They are exotic pets because they are exotic. If they are everywhere, no one wants them. Then they will be eliminated and not be imported to the market anymore. This is how the exotic pet trade works.
If I had to elaborate I would come up with a question on my mind, “Is the feral cat doing less harm to our local species than all the exotic pets combined if let’s say somehow they all went into the wild?” I don’t know. I would be more optimistic if the answer was yes. If cats have been pets for such a long time and not much awareness of it was raised then having exotic pets doesn’t sound like such a huge issue as the environmentalists and organizations claimed to be.
On the other hand, I see a much larger number of exotic animals from the food markets and imported goods going into the wild.
Escaped or transported by accident
There have been a number of times that live animals from food markets escaped by accident and went to the wild. Years ago there were hundreds of smuggled adult monitor lizards being abandoned in broken wood crated while the smugglers running away from the customs and police. That’s only one of the many similar incidents.
Small animals can be hitchhikers! Geckos, skinks, other small lizards, insects, and arachnids can come together with imported wood, plants, furniture, fruits, vegetables, cars, and many other imported items. They hide very well inside and easily join in the shipment.
Released on purpose – the worst “good deed”
There is also this “mercy release” practice – a ritual that religious organizations free animals bought mainly from food markets. The animals set free are mostly non-native, wild-caught species of all kinds: Whatever live seafood they can buy, insects, bullfrogs, toads, turtles, lizards, snakes, birds, and mammals, HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of them at a time, every week! They even listed all the lives they set free and how much they spent on them on the news with a happy face. One single random believer can easily spend 500k HKD every month buying off anything alive from the markets for releasing in the wild.
But the thing is, they have been flushing freshwater animals down the sea, pouring seafood in drinking water reservoirs, setting land tortoises free in the water, etc. How amazingly wrong! Oh no, hold on, it’s actually better than that if they were released in more suitable habitats and could live, thrive, and possibly harm our local species. Umm. I’m speechless. This is the very few times in life I have to say I’d rather those animals not make it..
The Asian water dragon has a long history of living here. I first found them in the wild in the early 80s. My uncles spotted them back in the 60s.
Whether if the Asian water monitor is a native or introduced species is not confirmed. But many believe it is an introduced species. Some cousins of this species have also been spotted in the wild such as the yellow-headed or Philippine water monitor (Varanus cumingi).
Over 10-12 species of freshwater turtles can be found in the wild in Hong Kong. Only 5 species are native. All the rest are introduced such as:
Animal migration happens in birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and crustaceans all around the world, naturally. Whether it is natural catastrophes or man-made disasters, it is not something new. Non-native species occupying a local environment and stealing resources from local species sounds familiar, huh? Homo sapiens has been doing this for 3 million years. Natural selection itself can evolve, too, into a modern form.
The rarest animal I’ve ever found was the Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis). Only around 20 of them are in the wild. But that’s a subspecies of leopards. In terms of a full species, this is the rarest one in my experience.
Let me introduce the most endangered species I’ve ever found in the wild – the Ploughshare Tortoise of Madagascar.
It is also called Angonoka tortoise (Astrochelys yniphora).
Those big organizations will only tell you about the tigers, rhinos, marine mammals, etc. Probably it’s all about marketing which I have zero idea about.
Let me do something for this species which is TONS more endangered. Help me share this and spread the love before it goes extinct which could happen tomorrow or any day.
If you know of anyone on earth who’s ever seen one of these tortoises in the wild, definitely let me know!
Everyone is talking about “Tiger King”. Now you probably have an idea how big cats are kept in captivity. You may think that they could have a better life if they were in their natural habitats. I have spent a lot of time in Africa, and I did not always see a paradise.
This is a lucky one rescued from canned hunting (being kept in a confined, fenced-in area for trophy hunting which is surprisingly legal in some African countries). ⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ I don’t know what to say. Nowadays we can’t just seem to tell our kids it’s okay to do anything they like as long as it’s not illegal. There are so many ridiculously wrong activities that are legal, such as canned hunting as an entertainment or a sport. ⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Legality is not a guide for morality.