Python craze causes dismay

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 January, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 January, 2001, 12:00am

People are showing increasing interest in keeping giant pythons as pets, but experts warn they are getting rid of them just as quickly.

The number of imported pythons, a protected species, rose to 984 in the first 11 months of last year, double the number of 1999 and six times that of 1998.

Dr Michael Lau Wai-neng, senior conservation officer at the Kadoorie Farm and Botanical Garden, in Shek Kong, said the rise meant more people were raising exotic species as house pets, but added: 'The sharp increase shows that people have not thought about it properly before keeping pythons and have not taken good care of them. Most pythons can live up to 30 years.'

A badly injured Burmese python was adopted at the Kadoorie Farm after it was found recently in Yuen Long.

It had lost its ability to hunt, probably because it had been kept too long as a pet.

Pythons are internationally protected and their sale in Hong Kong is regulated by the Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department. Catching and killing a python is illegal. A licence and export certificate is needed to keep a python.

Different species of python vary in length and weight - the Burmese python can grow up to 10 metres, while the ball python is about 1.5 metres long.

Dr Lau said the environment in Hong Kong was not suitable for keeping big pythons because the animals were forceful and sometimes dangerous. 'Small pythons do not interact with humans in the way of cats and dogs. People would soon find them disgusting not long after they thought they were attractive,' he said.

The Kadoorie Farm receives an average of 600 snakes, including pythons, each year. Most escaped from snake shops or were lost into urban areas but many were abandoned by owners. 'Most of the snakes are in Shamshuipo and Tung Choi Street [Mongkok], where snake shops clustered. Some escape and sneak into nearby flats,,' said Paul Crow, a conservation officer at the farm.

Pythons other than those injured are sent to a wildlife protection area in north Guangdong. Last year, 88 were sent back.