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Exotic Animal Tour

I guess I hadn’t previously given the concept of ‘animal shows’ much thought. I turned up at the Langkawi Snake Sanctuary just in time to learn that I had missed the show, but not too late to find a young boy wiping spitting cobra venom from his red, swollen eyes. Uncertain as to how this occurred, I decided not to be deterred from a return visit. The next time I arrived in plenty of time to have a look around the ‘sanctuary’.

Perhaps not a sanctuary as you and I would know, it nevertheless it housed a good number of snakes. Luckily I wasn’t put off by the first three snake houses I came upon – the first two were empty and the third contained what appeared to be a deceased snake. Overall there was an interesting variety of snakes on show with plenty of information accompanying each one, as well as good general facts.

With my previous brief visit uppermost in my mind, I took a seat at the back of the auditorium as the music and commentary began and I nervously fiddled with the welding goggles in my bag. The first snake ‘charmer’ came on stage with his large, venomous snake and proceeded to taunt his charge. The Malay and English commentary was sometimes a little difficult to hear but, for the most part, was informative and interesting about each performing reptile. We saw four other snakes being ‘persuaded’ to take part in various dangerous tricks by their brave keepers. And at the end a very large but friendly snake slithered and posed for photos on the shoulders of anyone in the audience who wished for the experience.

If you do find yourself in Langkawi, looking for the snake show, make sure you don’t confuse the Snake Sanctuary with another similarly-named place, as I did with some friends. We pitched up in anticipation of our first snake show only to discover a forgotten land of lonely animals. Picking our way past the derelict ticket office, over dusty debris, I was about to turn back when a hugely smiling man appeared in front of me. On enquiring about the snake show, he nodded eagerly and beckoned us to follow. He led us to some tiered seating where we sat facing a stage that can’t have been used in a very long time. We were treated to an exclusive show in which our private snake charmer and his helpful assistant struggled to restrain an enormous constricting Python that was wrapping itself more and more tightly around his body. Another large Python lay on the edge of stage, seemingly asleep although maybe just very full, having just swallowed a chicken, whole. A rather vigorous cobra also tried his best to overcome them, and the grand finale this time was the snake charmer lying on a bed of broken glass while we stood on him….

We were then given a tour and commentary of the rest of the place where we saw about 20 different species of animal and bird. Sadly these creatures were being kept in rather “old style” zoo conditions. Our master snake charmer was enthusiastic about his charges and seemed to have a genuine affection for them. We felt he was probably doing his best with limited or no funds and admired his energy and skill in putting on the impromptu snake show. We left feeling very sorry for the animals and their two keepers.

My next visit was to Langkawi Crocodile Farm. I was there for one of the morning shows and on approaching the ‘arena’ I could hear some pretty upbeat pop music that I imagined was accompanying the swaying hips of a jiving croc. The arena was a largish concrete area of two shallow pools, each housing a large crocodile (for those unused to visualising crocodile dimensions, we’re talking about 45 shoulder bags, 15 handbags and 18 pairs of shoes per croc). Both appeared really rather content to wallow quietly in the cooling water. Of course, this was not a day of rest, this was showtime, and the small congregation of eager human faces was expecting danger and excitement. The two crocodile tamers set to work with their long poles, which I mistakenly assumed might be for protection in a tight situation.

Actually, they were poking sticks – the crocs requiredprodding into action. Never mind, the crowd seemed happy with the odd lunge and snap. The grand finale was a ‘kiss’ between croc and tamer, the danger of which was almost lost on me having witnessed 15 minutes of inactivity by these seemingly tame, lethargic creatures. I then wandered through the well kept grounds against a stunning backdrop of lush Malaysian rainforest. There were a good number of crocodiles to peer at – some in the water at feeding time, others in their pens, largely of the porosis species. I enjoyed observing them from a bridge above their pool, their prehistoric heads moving very slowly through the water.

Captivity had almost certainly saved a few disabled crocodiles from certain death in the wild. There were also a few examples of other crocodile species although unfortunately, as with all else, very little info on them. The information shelter consisted of a mixed bunch of old press cuttings, a couple of stuffed crocs, a pile of half hatched crocodile eggs, and a crocodile skeleton sitting with a collection of the crocodile’s internal organs and some premature baby crocodiles, all displayed in glass kitchen jars…

All said, people seemed to be enjoying themselves. If you’ve never seen one of these creatures live, there’s a certain wonder to seeing them for the first time – children, especially, being the obvious candidates to appreciate this the most. Whereas the Crocodile Farm provided little information for the visitor and no opportunity to cuddle the goods, the Snake Sanctuary was a good learning experience, one that kids would find of interest as well as adults. Both worth a visit, particularly for children.

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