Band of hunters stalk elusive snakes at night

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 September, 2011, 12:00am


For most, a night on the town means hitting a few bars, but for reptile lovers, it's a chance to head into the heart of the city's country parks and do what they love best - hunt snakes.

'I just meet people online, through Facebook,' said 50-year-old Robert Ferguson, sales director at the Economist Group. 'You get some funny looks, for sure. At first the wife was a bit worried about me. 'You're going to go out into the middle of the woods at night with someone you just met?'

He points at a photo of his son and two other men holding a 2.4-metre Burmese python. 'That's Dan, he used to catch rattlesnakes and sell them back in the States. I met him through Flickr.'

The long-time snake wrangler is Dan Rosenberg, a toy designer originally from the rural outskirts of Los Angeles. Rosenberg spends his holidays looking for snakes all over the world in such places as Peru, Uganda and even Taiwan.

'I used to have snakes in my room, and once I complained to my dad about why I didn't have a girlfriend,' said Rosenberg. 'And he said 'well, son, maybe that's one reason.''

Nowadays, the 47-year-old has no problem with women. His girlfriend is also a snake lover, and he makes friends worldwide who share his passion for serpents. 'We're drawn together by our love of snakes and photography,' said Rosenberg. 'I only recently started realising there's so much in Hong Kong to find.'

Rosenberg and Ferguson met because of a project the latter started on Flickr, building up a photographic repository of all the species of native wildlife in Hong Kong. Since the group was formed in 2009, 144 members have captured exquisite images of a great proportion of the city's reptiles.

The Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department says there are 52 native species of snake in Hong Kong, including 14 venomous ones, eight of which can inflict fatal bites. While venomous species such as the Chinese cobra are quite common, Rosenberg says most people will never come across them, as they slither away long before one can cross their paths.

'They are the shyest animals and so fearful of people,' he said. 'It's so difficult to get a photo of a snake because they're always turning their heads away.'

As autumn draws near and the temperature starts to drop, snake hunting season draws to an end. The season typically lasts from March until September, when the weather is warm and slightly wet. And while it can be rare to spot a snake, there are times when the conditions are just right and there's a bonanza.

'The other week, my friend who's getting a phD in China snakes was in town, and in five nights we saw 77 snakes. Honestly, most of the nights you find nothing. But if the weather's right and the conditions are right, it could be crazy.'

Ferguson agrees. 'You know it's funny, I lived in Hong Kong for a couple of years and never saw a snake. Now it's rare that I don't find a reptile or a snake.'