In one of my first visits to Lumpani Park I came upon a juvenile Puff-faced Water Snake. Upon viewing and photographing the snake, an American tourist nearby got anxious and stated, “I ask only that you do not harm the snake.” Further inquiry found that he had bought the snake at a Bangkok market and “humanely” released it into the Lumpani Park lakes. My friend quizzed the guy and found that he had no idea whether the snake was a native species or whether it was venomous. We did our best to explain to him why releasing the snake had been a bad idea.
Releasing a captive animal into the wild, even a native one, is not good for the local ecosystems. Non-native species, such as the red-eared sliders in the ponds, the Norway rats in the streets, and the English house sparrows in the trees, may prey on, outcompete, or spread disease among local species. And even native species that have spent time in captivity are highly at risk for transmitting disease into the wild populations. If you purchase a captive animal and can no longer care for it, please find a responsible person to take over care for the animal rather than releasing it into the wild.
Sadly, the water snake we found is only one of thousands of snakes that get processed through Bangkok’s markets. Most of that trade is illegal. The vast majority of those snakes either die within the marketing process, die soon after they are sold, or are released into an unfamiliar habitat in the wild. Please only purchase snakes if you are extremely familiar with how large they will get and how to take care of them, and only buy them from licensed, legal snake breeders. If someone is selling the animals on the street of out of a market, it’s best to assume the worst and move on.
Here are a few images of snakes and other animals in markets in Bangkok:
(note – the cage full of water snakes was a photo from Vietnam, courtesy of Alex Krohn. All of the other photos were taken by me in Bangkok.)