Saturday, September 25, 2021

Pena: They were here first!


THERE was a time when snakes kept popping up in our compound. They even crawl inside apartments and dormitories. Once, I was brushing my teeth in the bathroom when I came face to face with a small snake, head raised, resting on top of the toilet bowl. I also encountered one in the garage and a big one in the storm drainage. In one of the apartments, a large python was found under the washing machine. The scariest was a snake found under a mattress in one of the dorms.

Our compound was once an open, grassy field. It was the natural habitat of snakes. Now that it was developed into a residential and industrial area, the snakes still roam in their former home. To protect residents, we covered all possible entry points in apartments and dormitories. I took in some stray cats too for added protection. They managed to kill some of those unwanted visitors.

This scene in our compound is also happening elsewhere. As population grows, human settlements take over forest, woodlands, grasslands, swamps, wetlands and waterways. This expansion displaces wildlife in those areas. The loss of habitat is in fact one of the reasons for the declining population of animals and plants.

There are instances however when the surviving wild species still roam in their former habitat. In Thailand for instance, snakes show up in their airport and even in homes. Sometimes they even come out of toilet bowls!

Bangkok, Thailand was founded on the banks of the Chao Phraya, a lush marshland providing fertile breeding grounds for snakes. As the city’s population has grown along the Chao Phraya River Delta, snakes have been forced from their natural habitats into human settlements

The city’s Suvarnabhumi Airport was opened on land formerly known as ‘Cobra Swamp’. There was an instance in 2016 when a snake slithered into the arrival hall and wrapped itself around the base of a luggage cart to the horror of passengers. The airport management issued an apology (to the people of course, not to the snake who lost their home to the airport).

In a recent news item I read, an upscale residential area in Buenos Aires, Argentina was invaded by native capybaras, the area's original residents. The capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris) is a giant cavy rodent native to South America. It is the largest living rodent measuring up to 1.3 meters (4.2 feet) long. According to the report, hundreds of capybaras are invading lawns and gardens in the wealthy suburb of Nordelta, Tigre, in Buenos Aires Province. The area was once wetlands for local wildlife.

Sometimes the human-wildlife encounter is fatal. There were instances when big brown bears kill humans in the United States. Same is true with lions in Africa. The best we can do is to have a peaceful co-existence. We can’t blame wild animals for invading our homes. They were here first.


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