Snake catcher video sparks fury after Burmese python 'almost decapitated' during capture
Alex Millson and Raquel Carvalho
A video of a snake catcher and two police officers roughly capturing a Burmese python on Lamma Island has angered animal lovers who say the creature was almost decapitated during the incident.
In the video the snake catcher can be seen holding a large metal bin over the reptile and then leaning on it with all his weight.
But the snake’s head and tail are both trapped under the edge of the bin, and the reptile can be seen thrashing around wildly. By the time the animal is forced into a sack it is still.
The film has sparked a chorus of disapproval and experts have called for the snake catcher in question to be struck off the list of professionals that police use.
Watch: Hong Kong snake catcher filmed abusing snake
The video was shot by islander Marivic Mahmood and posted on the Facebook group Lamma Snake Sightings, where residents show off their best serpent snaps.
Mahmood, 42, said police had told her the python had been trapped under the bin at around 1pm on Friday after it ate a neighbour’s cat. She said was appalled by the snake catcher’s methods.
In the video he can be seen pinning the reptile to the floor while a police officer attempts to grab its head with a metal claw.
“I was waiting to see how they would catch it,” said Mahmood. “I don’t have any experience catching snakes but I know this was unacceptable. It was not appropriate and should be investigated. The snake was injured. They almost cut off the head. There was blood on the bag.”
Her husband Ziaudeen Mahmood, 47, who has lived in Hong Kong for 28 years, added: “The first time I saw the video my heart was bleeding.”
Experienced Hong Kong snake catchers criticised the method of capture after seeing the video.
Dave Willott, an official catcher for the police who has also worked for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) in the past, said: “I don’t think the snake catcher’s method was very good. It was like he didn’t really know what he was doing, it was pretty rough.
“I didn’t like the idea of the snake’s head sticking out from under the bin with the snake catcher’s whole body weight on it.”
Stephen Loman, who has been rescuing and releasing snakes into the wild for years, described what he saw as “so unprofessional”.
“That’s no way to catch a snake. The poor animal’s head was almost decapitated,” Loman said.
Camas Tung, Lamma Island’s new police chief, said officers had received a report of a snake having killed a cat, and a registered snake catcher was summoned. She said police had received no complaints over the handling of the animal.
“We have to trust his professionalism. It was a very big [snake], so a bit difficult to handle,” she said, adding that the snake was sent to the AFCD, from where it was transported to Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden in the New Territories.
Phoenix Wong, spokesperson for Kadoorie Farm, which looks after rescued animals before releasing them back into the wild, confirmed they had received the snake – and several complaints about the way it was handled.
“We think it is clear to both the experts and laymen alike that there are huge areas for improvement in this way this animal was handled.
"We have already discussed the case with relevant staff of the AFCD and have urged them to take this up with the police and to recommend at least that the particular snake catcher involved is no longer used.
“The python seems to have come through the ordeal unscathed,” Wong added, saying that the snake would be microchipped and sexed before being released back into the wild.
Tung refused to comment on whether the snake catcher would be removed from the police list.
The Burmese python is a protected species in Hong Kong and is the territory’s largest natural predator. It can grow up to six metres long and normally preys on wild animals, although there have been cases where hungry pythons seek out domestic pets.
In May a woman was forced to stab a python in the head after it grabbed her dog Dexter and started to crush him.