5-minute listening: Pythons on your porch? Call Myanmar’s ‘Snake Princess’ to return reptiles to natural habitat

  • Shwe Lei leads a team – called Shwe Metta meaning “golden love” – with about a dozen members who rescued around 200 snakes last year from around Yangon
  • Practise your English with our short listening exercises: play the audio linked below; complete the questions; and check the answers at the bottom of the page
Doris Wai |

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Snake catcher Shwe Lei holds a snake at a monastery in Yangon. Photo: AFP


1. What were Shwe Lei and her team putting into the rice sacks?
A. food
B. snakes
C. leaves
D. bricks

2. What does the “natural habitat” at the beginning of the paragraph most likely refer to?
A. a zoo
B. the monastery
C. a forest
D. pet shops

3. If you “shun” someone, you _________ them.
A. keep away from
B. fail to take care of
C. look down on
D. used to dislike

4. What does Shwe Lei like about snakes?
A. their strength
B. their appearance
C. their adaptability
D. their personality

5. According to Ko Toe Aung, what usually happens when he catches a poisonous snake?
A. He gets bitten.
B. He is unsuccessful.
C. He ends up in hospital.
D. all of the above

6. What is the meaning of Shwe Metta?
A. “love for snakes”
B. “golden serpent”
C. “golden love”
D. “snake lovers”

7. How many members are there in Shwe Metta?
A. less than five
B. about 12
C. more than 15
D. information not given

8. Where does the team get the money needed to run their snake-catching operations?
A. from donations
B. from the government
C. from the monastery
D. from the local wildlife park

9. Which word can replace “venomous” in the podcast?
A. dangerous
B. vicious
C. malicious
D. none of the above

10. What do Burmese pythons usually eat according to the podcast?
A. rats and other small mammals
B. insects and other snakes
C. fruits and leaves
D. small mammals and fish

11. Which of the following snake species can be found in Myanmar according to the podcast?
A. cobra
B. python
C. banded krait
D. all of the above

12. How many people in Myanmar lost their lives after they were bitten by snakes in 2014?
A. about 1,200
B. between 5,000 and 8,000
C. as many as 10,000
D. more than 15,000

13. What is one skill a snake-catcher must have?
A. the ability to tell apart different sounds that snakes make
B. the ability to identify the smell of different snakes
C. knowledge of which snakes are native and invasive
D. an understanding of the favourite hideouts of different snakes

14. How do cobras smell according to Ko Toe Aung?
A. floral
B. musky
C. stinky
D. They do not give off any smell.

15. What does Shwe Lei hope people will not do when they see a snake in their home?
A. keep them as pets
B. get help from Shwe Metta
C. kill them
D. bring them to monasteries

The mission of Myanmar’s premier snake removal squad is to remove pythons and cajole cobras from dangerous entanglements with the human world and return them to their natural habitats. Photo: AFP


1. B

2. C

3. A

4. D

5. A

6. C

7. B

8. A

9. D

10. A

11. D

12. A

13. B

14. C

15. C


Adapted from Agence France-Presse

Voice 1: At 4am outside a monastery in Myanmar, Shwe Lei and her team were wrestling 30 writhing pythons into old rice sacks and loading them into a van. This was just another day in the life of the country’s top snake removal squad. They rescue pythons and cobras that were found where humans live, and the team returns the reptiles to their natural habitat.

Voice 2: Stuffed into Shwe Lei’s sacks was three months’ worth of work. These snakes were rescued from homes around Yangon and cared for at the monastery until they were fit for release to the wild. While most people shun these reptiles, Shwe Lei said she loved them because they would not be deceitful.

Voice 1: Her mentor is Ko Toe Aung, a burly 40-year-old who said he was hospitalised seven times since he started catching snakes in 2016. He said anyone in the snake-catching game must be fast and agile. According to Ko Toe Aung, whenever he catches a venomous snake, there is a 90 per cent chance he will get bitten.

Voice 2: Their team is called Shwe Metta, which means “golden love”. They have around a dozen members and rescued about 200 snakes last year from around Yangon. Social media videos of the pair pulling snakes out of sink plugholes and extricating them from roof eaves have earned them the moniker “prince and princess of snakes” from local media.

Voice 1: The team members all have day jobs and rely on donations for everything from their protective gear to the petrol for their purple-coloured snake “ambulance”. They mostly catch Burmese pythons, which are non-venomous snakes that typically grow to about five metres long and squeeze their prey – rats and other small mammals – to death. Apart from pythons, cobras and banded krait also make homes in Yangon’s flats and their venom can be fatal.

Voice 2: In 2014, more than 15,000 people were bitten by snakes in Myanmar, according to the latest available figures from the World Health Organization. Of those, 1,250 died, a fatality rate higher than many other countries, largely because of Myanmar’s creaking healthcare system and patchy access to antivenoms.

Voice 1: As such, recognising the snake’s smell is one skill that a snake-catcher must hone. They have to identify the species of snakes before removing them. According to Ko Toe Aung, cobras smell “rotten”, and the smell of pythons is even stronger.

Voice 2: Shwe Lei said that in the past, people killed snakes whenever they found them. But they now seek help from Shwe Metta after knowing the team can release the snakes back into the wild. Through their online videos, the team hopes to encourage people to be more compassionate towards the slithering reptiles – especially if one turns up in their home.

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