100 pythons a year dumped cross border
Simon Parry and Hazel Parry
Release of snakes on mainland raises biodiversity concerns
A hundred pythons captured in Hong Kong each year are being taken over the border and released into the wild in a policy that experts warn may be upsetting the city's biodiversity.
Burmese pythons found troubling residents or animals are taken to a government-managed animal centre for temporary keeping and then sent periodically in batches for release on the mainland.
But experts said taking mostly fully grown pythons out of the local snake population was potentially inhumane and may cause explosions in the populations of wild boar, deer and other python prey.
They urged the government to microchip pythons, an endangered species, and conduct a detailed survey of their population and habits so that a knowledge-based management policy could be drawn up.
The policy of deporting problem snakes emerged after an incident near a family walk on the edge of Sai Kung Country Park a fortnight ago, where a woman battled a 4.5-metre python to save her pet dog, Poppy, from being crushed to death.
Responding to questions from the Sunday Morning Post, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said it was 'difficult to get an accurate estimate of the number of pythons in Hong Kong because of the secretive nature of snakes'.
A spokeswoman added: 'If they encroach upon private premises and cause a nuisance, the police will hire professional snake catchers to remove them for subsequent re- homing. Therefore, as far as the conservation and management of Burmese pythons in Hong Kong is concerned, there is no imminent problem.'
During the past three years, about 100 pythons a year had been captured, taken to an animal management centre in Sheung Shui for temporary keeping and then released into undisclosed rural areas on the mainland, the spokeswoman said.
The policy was questioned by snake catcher Dave Willott, who tried to trace the python involved in the attack a fortnight ago.
'What they are doing is taking an animal which is stressed and undernourished, and dumping it in a strange area,' he said.
'Also if they don't do health checks, they could be carrying all sorts of disease and introducing them into a new population.'
Mr Willott argued that pythons should be microchipped so they could be traced once they were released back into the wild.
'If you release 10 pythons in one area, you may find all the barking deer disappear in that area. It's messing with nature.'
Ideally, pythons should be released back into the wild in Hong Kong, Mr Willott said.
'If it turns out there is no room for the python here, fine. But let's do it properly and do a study first, and in the meantime if they are taken to the mainland, let's follow a procedure as they would in other countries,' he said.
'It's not about conservation. Pythons aren't particularly threatened in Hong Kong. It's about animal welfare.'
Zoologist Paul Crow, senior conservation officer at Kadoorie Farm's fauna conservation department, estimated Hong Kong was home to thousands of Burmese pythons, but said a proper study was needed. 'There's a huge gap in our knowledge about the species and you can't manage a species properly until you know about it,' he said.