- Hong Kong is home to many snake species both dangerous and harmless
- The harmless Greater Green is sometimes killed because it is mistaken for the Bamboo Viper
- Knowing how to tell them apart will help people act rationally during an encounter
- Knowing how they behave will help people see that neither species need be killed
Last night I went out on an impromptu hike on a trail known for snake encounters on Hong Kong Island. As usual I had my core gear including water bottle, snake hook, waterproof back pack, headlamp, flashlights and camera gear. About 4 km into the walk as the sun was setting and I had come up empty on the snakes I began to wonder if I should have brought so much equipment. Half an hour later as I started my walk back in the dark I was certain I could have gotten by with just the water bottle and a head lamp when to my great surprise, right in the middle of the path I came across a tiny Bamboo Viper. My first thought was that he had been stomped on by a jogger since they aren't normally resting out in the open, then on closer inspection I saw why he was lazing about on the trail. He was in mid feast having partially swallowed a gecko!
I then quickly fumbled around with my camera and lights and started filming as he finished his meal and despite not getting my aperture quite right I managed to get a little clip of him finishing off the tail end of his dinner. (link here incase video block does not show up: https://youtu.be/DqQ7WdrlzXo)
After watching him slither away, belly now full, I figured that would be where my luck ended for the night, but boy was I wrong. On the way back up the path I found another 7 Bamboo Vipers and a Taiwan Kukri all of which seemed to form out of the ether in the span of an hour. It was great fun watching them all from a safe distance and since I had my longer camera lens I could film and photo without having to move into the danger zone.
With all that great snaking there was a bit of a somber note towards the end of the trek when I came across a freshly killed Greater Green Snake.
In light of how many Bamboo Vipers I had just seen I couldn't help but reflect on the irony that the person who had killed this harmless snake did nothing to rid the world of the venomous species they no doubt believed it to be. Despite the unfortunate situation, at that moment I suddenly felt better knowing that 24 hours earlier we had officially launched HongKongSnakeID.com which includes specific information on telling the difference between these two wonderful snakes. Do I think that the website could have stopped this incident or will prevent all future misidentifications? Of course not, but knowing that there is accessible information available to the public now I'm sure it will keep at least a few more people and snakes safe.
Speaking of safety before I conclude, there is no doubt that the Bamboo Viper is a serious snake that can inflict very serious injury to anyone it bites. It is also true that they are responsible for more venomous bites in Hong Kong each year than any other species. HOWEVER, as is almost always the case, each of the 8 specimens I encountered on my way either tried to hide in the greenery where they were positioned or slither away when I stopped to observe them. If you are observant and don't toy with these snakes when you see them, outside of some very unlucky situations your chances of being bitten are quite low. More importantly, if you see a green snake actively slithering around during the day it is most likely a Greater Green which is completely harmless and certainly not worth the bottom of your boot.
As always the opinions included here are solely those of the author. You should never handle or approach a snake in the wild and if you are bitten contact emergency services at '999' immediately. See our Practical Venomous Snake ID Guide if you plan to be out and about with nature in Hong Kong, and scroll through the page to obtain more advice on what to do if you are bitten as well as for snake removal services.