Goatee Toni Goatee Toni is the owner of Jurassic Garage, a warehouse animal center in Chai Wan that teaches children and adults alike about snakes, lizards and other exotic beasts. He talks to Sarah Fung about his animal encounters. HK Magazine: What first attracted you to snakes? Goatee Toni: When I was young, I liked all kinds of animals. I was drawn to reptiles because they are wild. They have been around since before the dinosaurs and they haven’t changed much in all that time. They have a tough life—reptiles lay eggs and the babies have to fend for themselves. I didn’t get a lot of support from my family growing up so I can relate to that. HK: Do the animals live full time at Jurassic Garage? GT: No, we only bring them here when we are doing a show. The rest of the time, they live on our farm in Fanling. We have around 800 snakes, which we study so we can learn more about their behavior. We also run a breeding program. Only around 50 of them are suitable to be handled by humans. HK: What do your neighbors think of the farm? GT: They don’t know about it! We keep our location top secret. At our old location, someone broke in and stole many valuable snakes, which is why we don’t open the farm to visitors. HK: How do your visitors react when they first see the snakes? GT: They are always scared of the snakes at the beginning, but it’s normal to be afraid. Once they see the true side of the snakes, they fall in love with them and they will quickly gain confidence. After the show, they want to handle more snakes. The kids are very brave, but the moms are the worst. Sometimes when we drape snakes all over their children they are rooted to the spot with fear. HK: What has been your most memorable encounter with a snake? GT: I was bitten by a cobra in Indonesian Borneo. We were in the middle of the jungle and there was no way we could have gotten to a hospital in time, but we had some antivenom, which I had to inject into myself. Some of my fingers aren’t straight now but at least they can still move. The venom contains a neurotoxin, so a cobra bite is not painful. You’ll just die. HK: What should you do if you find a snake near your house? GT: Don’t call 999—that’s basically a death sentence for the snake. Most bites happen when someone accidentally treads on a snake. One of the only snakes that will charge is the King Cobra, and these are not very common in Hong Kong. HK: So can sulfur keep snakes away? GT: Actually, that’s an urban legend—I tried it out myself. I sprinkled some sulfur on the floor and a snake glided right over it. The only thing that might happen is that the snake might get some sulfur between its scales and feel itchy. HK: What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking about owning a snake? GT: I would urge them to think twice—twice! Keeping a snake isn’t for everyone. If you want to keep a snake, you have to also keep rats and mice. We pre-kill ours as much as possible, but some snakes will only eat live prey. There’s a lot of blood in the tank—it’s cruel. There’s also the expense. To feed one of our large pythons, it costs around $3,500 per month in rats. We occasionally set up snake habitats for clients, but we won’t do it for anyone—they have to agree to respect the animals. Find out more about Jurassic Garage by logging onto jurassicgarage.hk. A pair of Toni's pythons Dr. Billy Hau Reptile expert, wildlife conservationist and assistant professor at the HKU School of Biological Sciences, Dr. Billy Hau talks to Shezam Wong about his fondness for this fascinating but misunderstood animal. HK Magazine: How did you become involved in snake conservation? Billy Hau: I grew up in the New Territories and often came across snakes in my childhood. Back then, I would play with them and even kill the smaller ones sometimes. It wasn’t until I began to study ecology that I realized how important they are to the ecosystem; that the way I had treated them in the past was wrong. The work that I do these days involves education, and helping people realize the critical role that snakes play in the ecosystem. HK: Can you tell us some cool snake facts? BH: Snakes are very successful survivors and are even better than mammals at finding their niche in the environment. Being cold-blooded, they are able to regulate their own metabolism and can go for months without eating. Hong Kong has a lot of different snake species; many are tame, less than a foot long, thinner than your finger and feed on crickets. HK: What are some attitudes that Hongkongers have towards snakes? BH: I think Chinese culture tends to promote the idea that snakes are evil. There are traditional poems, exaggerated movies and even media articles on how snakes are dangerous and will eat you, or that they will always come after you if you release them. Another widely propagated Chinese belief is that eating snakes in winter will make you stronger. As snake farming is impossible, it’s particularly common in mainland China to catch wild snakes for profit, and this is causing them to become endangered. HK: What are some of your more memorable snake encounters? BH: Once I was hiking alone in mainland China and heard what seemed to be a really large and noisy animal. A few moments later, a three-meter king cobra slithered past me. I was scared, knowing that it was Asia’s most venomous and aggressive snake, but it didn’t see me as a threat and just went on its way. Another time I was working as a research student in the bush and nearly stepped on a python that was almost as big as my thigh. It was lying there sunbathing, and luckily I noticed its distinctive pattern and avoided it in time. I backed away slowly and it wasn’t bothered at all. HK: What should you do if you get bitten? BH: If you have a smartphone on you, take a photo of the snake and head immediately to the hospital. Even if you can’t get a picture, try to memorize the snake’s pattern. For example, a green snake could be a bamboo pit viper; a silver and black one a krait. Doctors will need to identify the snake to determine if it’s poisonous, and also to get you the right antivenom. HK: What are some things you wish more people knew about snakes? BH: Snakes play an important role in the ecosystem. For example, they eat rats, so to eradicate snakes would cause problems with pest control. People need to recognize and respect that all wildlife has its own place in the environment, and that we have a responsibility to protect and share this world with them. The biggest misconception people have is that all snakes are dangerous. In reality, only a few species are venomous, and they won’t attack unless they feel threatened or are protecting a nest. The best thing to do is to leave them alone—they’re more afraid of you than you should be of them. Back to main page.