Buddhist monk offers temple refuge for threatened snakes

Serpent sanctuary: Wilatha with a rescued Burmese python at his monastery on the outskirts of Yangon. — Reuters

Tenderly stroking the back of a large Burmese python resting on his lap, Buddhist monk Wilatha is trying to play a part in saving scores of snakes that might otherwise be killed or destined for the black market.

The 69-year-old monk has created a refuge for snakes ranging from pythons to vipers and cobras at the Seikta Thukha Tetoo monastery in the bustling commercial city of Yangon.

Since the snake refuge was launched five years ago, residents and government agencies, including the fire department, have been bringing captured snakes to the monk.

“Once people catch snakes, they will likely try to find a buyer, ” said Wilatha, who also uses his saffron robe to clean the snake, one of the many he looks after and describes as “my children”.

Having such a sanctuary in mainly-Buddhist Myanmar means that people can gain “merit” by giving the snakes to a monk rather than killing or selling them, said Wilatha, who feels he is helping protect the natural ecological cycle.

The South-East Asian country has become a global hub in the illegal wildlife trade with snakes often smuggled to neighbouring countries like Thailand, according to conservationists. — Reuters

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