Buddhist monk Wilatha runs a snake sanctuary in Myanmar. He takes in pythons, cobras and vipers that would otherwise be killed or sold on the black market.
The 69-year-old monk has created a refuge for snakes at a Buddhist temple in the city of Yangon: “If I don’t save these snakes and shelter them here, these snakes will be sold off in the black market. I believe that losing even one animal species will cause problems to nature.”
Since the snake refuge started five years ago, residents and government agencies have been bringing captured snakes to the monk. The snakes are usually caught in or near homes.
“I always check their health and condition every morning as I feel from the bottom of my heart that they are my sons and daughters,” monk Wilatha told Reuters.
The monk said residents in mainly-Buddhist Myanmar hope to gain ‘merit’ by giving captured snakes to a monk rather than killing or selling them.
“In Buddhism belief, one of four great Devas (celestial beings) is a snake guardian. In other words, the snakes are related to the Deva world. If you kill a snake, you will suffer bad luck to your family, have a broken family, cause deadly disease and destroy business,” monk Wilatha said.
Conservationists say snakes are often smuggled to neighboring countries like China and Thailand, where they’re eaten or used to make traditional medicine.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature is worried about the shrinking numbers of snakes, listing the Burmese python as “vulnerable” in Southeast Asia.
“The illegal trade of wild animals is ranked third after human trafficking and drug smuggling across the world. We can say that wild snakes are potentially in danger of facing extinction in the near future,” said Kalyar Platt, a member of the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Monk Wilatha has made it part of his job to get the rescued snakes back to the wild. Working with the forest authority, he releases those he feels are ready, hoping they are never caught again.
During a recent release in the wild, he said he was happy to see them slither into freedom but worried in case they were caught again: “They would be sold to the black market if they are caught by bad people.”