Hong Kong snake encounters

How Briton helped catch pet-eating Hong Kong python that attacked him

Businessman who lives in city’s countryside Sai Kung district tells of life-and-death struggle to prise 4-metre snake free. I just thought, ‘I have to get its jaws off my leg’, now-smiling Karl Davies says

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 June, 2016, 6:17am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 July, 2018, 12:25pm

A rugby-playing businessman who was tackled by a 4.2-metre python in Hong Kong this week has posted a video showing the moment he returned with a snake catcher to bag the giant constrictor.

Video copyright Simon Parry, Red Door News

Seconds before he was attacked by the snake, Karl Davies had joked with his business partner about the possibility of running into a snake as they walked Davies’ pet border collies along a popular country park trail.

On his previous walk along the route in the city’s rural Sai Kung district a fortnight earlier, 49-year-old Davies had spotted the python lunging at dogs from the side of the path, and as they walked and talked business on June 13, Andrew Chambers joked with him: “If we don’t see a snake today, I’ll be very disappointed.”

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He didn’t have long to wait. “Less than a minute later, I walked past the place I’d seen the snake before and it wasn’t there,” Davies said. “The next thing – bang! – the python jumped out of the bush and sank its teeth into my leg. It got me around the lower calf.”

What followed was a frantic 30-second struggle to break free from the grip of the python, which is thought to have attacked and killed a succession of pet dogs in recent years along a stretch of the Family Walk pathway in Pak Tam Chung.

“Andrew started shouting and screaming ‘Get out of here, get out of here’. He gave it a couple of kicks and threw a stone at it but missed and hit me on the ankle,” Davies said.

“I tried to prise the snake’s jaws off my leg and punctured two fingers, and then I tried to smack it on the head with the stone that Andrew threw and that didn’t do any good either.

“I dragged my leg along to drag it off and then I tried to run with it to see if I could shake it off. By then the snake was starting to coil. I dragged it full length into the path and I fell down, and I saw it again trying to coil itself. As I got up, that’s when it fell off.

“Once I was free, I ran all the way to Pak Tam Chung. I just ran. I looked back and saw it laid full length over the path and I could see it was three or 3.5 metres easily.” Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden, where the snake has been taken, has said it is 4.2 metres long and weighs 23kg .

Davies, who plays rugby for the Pot Bellied Pigs Rugby Club in Hong Kong, joked of his efforts to free himself: “It was like pulling dead weight. It should be a training regime for rugby players – snake on the leg.”

Davies, a Briton who has lived in Hong Kong for eight years and is managing director of H&BA Transformational Solutions, said of the experience: “At first, it felt like someone grabbing your arm. I didn’t really feel any pain at all. It was like a dead weight on my leg.

“The adrenaline kicked in and I just thought: ‘I have to get its jaws off my leg’. It felt like an age ... I knew the last thing you want a python to do is to coil up.”

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Davies went to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) office at Pak Tam Chung, where Chambers, CEO of Tsunami Sportswear, had already run for help. He was taken to Tseung Kwan O Hospital, where he spent six hours before being released. He will return for stitching to his badly gashed fingers later this week.

His story would have ended there – the first human attack by a python believed to be responsible for a series of attacks on pet dogs along the country park trail, leading to warning signs being put up telling people with pets and children to beware.

The trail where the attack happened

But rather than keep a safe distance and find another route to walk his dogs along, two days after the attack Davies returned to the scene with bandaged fingers and puncture wounds on his legs and in the company of snake catcher Dave Willott.

As soon as they reached the spot where Davies was attacked, they found the same python curled up on the opposite side of the path and perfectly camouflaged by green and brown bracken. Willott’s exclamation when he first caught sight of its head was: “It’s ****** huge. That’s a big one.”

Willott, who has caught hundreds of snakes in the Sai Kung area, grabbed the python’s head and dragged it out of the undergrowth. Under directions from Willott, Davies grabbed its tail as Willott spent four minutes winding the 15kg reptile into a bag.

They then carried it 2km to the nearest road, from where Willott drove it to Sai Kung police station. It was put into a cage ready to be taken to Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden, which keeps native wildlife for display, or an AFCD animal centre.

Speaking as the python was taken away from Pak Tam Chung, Davies said: “I feel relieved. I wasn’t nervous about picking it up. I knew Dave was there and he knows how to handle snakes so I felt comfortable.

“This snake was in its natural habitat but it needed to be removed. If there had been a family going down there with young children, I’d hate to think what might have happened. Who knows what would happen if the snake came out at them?

“It was so close to the path. This was a particularly nasty and aggressive snake. If it had been a kid or a dog, instead of me, they would have been gone. I have no doubt about that.”

In the incident a fortnight earlier, Davies’ dog ran ahead of him and yelped as it reached the spot where the python was lying in wait. When Davies came around the corner, he saw the snake rearing up in the bushes beside the path.

Another group of walkers came along and the snake became aggressive, hissing and rearing at them repeatedly from the side of the path.

We have to learn to live with them. We can’t collect and remove every single python out there
Dave Willott

Snake catcher Willott, 49, admits to mixed feelings about trapping the python.

“I don’t think it’s fair to the snake but it’s the right thing to do because it’s a place where people go hiking and walking their dogs every day," he said. “We have to learn to live with them. We can’t collect and remove every single python out there. They are an important part of the ecosystem. But in this case it had to go. It was an unusual situation.”

Willott believes the snake was trying to attack Davies’ dog, which was beside him when it leapt out of the bushes.

“I don’t think it was trying to eat this guy when it attacked. It was a mistake. It could sense the dogs and feel their heat,” he said. “I don’t want people thinking these snakes target people. They don’t – not the Burmese python. I don’t see how a snake like that would be able to swallow a big guy like Karl.”

Willott believes the python he trapped is the same one responsible for attacks on pet dogs in recent years.

Two friends saved their dog from jaws of three-metre python after wrestling with it for half an hour on Hong Kong trail

In 2015, two friends spent half an hour battling to rescue an 18kg dog from the grip of a Burmese python. Stacy Tucker, 49 and pilot Colin Dyson 52, wrestled the predator, with Tucker sitting on top of the snake as they tried to prise open its jaws and uncoil it.

Tucker at one point shoved a rock into the snake’s mouth to stop it biting her pet dog Pippa, who survived the ordeal.

Pet dog crushed to death by python in second attack in two weeks

In May 2014, Katie Heyring’s pet dog Charlie was crushed to death as she walked with her five-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter and four other dogs along the trail.

The British expatriate tried to fight off the python with a walking stick but was forced to give up and take her children and other pets to safety when she realised her dog was dead.

I’m so glad the snake got you and not the dogs
Davies’ daughter Ceri

A fortnight earlier, another couple managed to fight off a python that attacked their dog in a nearby spot. Three other attacks on dogs, one fatal, have been reported since 2006 in the same area.

Pythons are Hong Kong’s biggest natural predator and are protected by law. Captured snakes are weighed, assessed and microchipped at Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden in the Tai Po district before being released in remote areas.

The AFCD did not respond to questions about the incident or say whether the python captured would be re-released into the wild.

Davies, meanwhile, has the dubious distinction of being the python’s first human victim. However, he was brought down to earth when he returned home from hospital after the attack to be told affectionately by his 19-year-old daughter Ceri: “I’m so glad the snake got you and not the dogs.”