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Myanmar monk saves snakes from the black market, offers shelter in monastery

The 69-year-old monk has created a refuge for snakes ranging from pythons to vipers and cobras at the Seikta Thukha TetOo monastery in the bustling commercial city of Yangon.

By: Reuters | Yangon | December 6, 2020 5:33:14 pm
Buddhist monk Wilatha poses with a rescued Burmese python at his monastery that has turned into a snake sanctuary on the outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar, November 26, 2020. Picture taken November 26, 2020. REUTERS/Shwe Paw Mya Tin

Tenderly stroking the back of a large Burmese python resting on his lap, Buddhist monk Wilatha is trying to play a part in saving scores of snakes that might otherwise be killed or destined for the black market.

The 69-year-old monk has created a refuge for snakes ranging from pythons to vipers and cobras at the Seikta Thukha TetOo monastery in the bustling commercial city of Yangon.

Since the snake refuge launch five years ago, residents and government agencies, including the fire department, have been bringing captured snakes to the monk.

“Once people catch snakes, they will likely try to find a buyer,” said Wilatha, who also uses his saffron robe to clean the snake, one of the many he looks after and describes as “my children”.

Having such a sanctuary in mainly-Buddhist Myanmar means people can gain ‘merit’ by giving the snakes to a monk rather than killing or selling them, said Wilatha, who feels he is helping protect the natural ecological cycle.

A family looks at rescued Burmese pythons at the monastery that has turned into a snake sanctuary in Myanmar. (Source: Reuters)

The Southeast Asian country has become a global hub in the illegal wildlife trade with snakes often smuggled to neighbouring countries like China and Thailand, according to conservationists.

Despite being considered an invasive species in some parts of the world, the Burmese python has been listed as “vulnerable” in its native Southeast Asia by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

A rescued Burmese python lies on a Buddha statue at a monastery that has turned into a snake sanctuary on the outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar. (Source: Reuters)

“Generally, living in close proximity to people induces stress in snakes,” said Kalyar Platt, a member of the Wildlife Conservation Society, explaining the need to get them back into the forest as soon as possible.

Relying on donations for the roughly $300 a month needed to feed the snakes, Wilatha only keeps them until he feels they are ready to go back to the wild.

Buddhist monk Wilatha feeds a rescued Burmese python at his monastery that has turned into a snake sanctuary. (Source: Reuters)

During a recent release at the Hlawga National Park, he said he was happy to see them slither into freedom but worried in case they were caught again.

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