Buddhist monk in Myanmar creates refuge for threatened snakes

Fondly caressing the back of a large Burmese python resting on his lap, 69-year-old Buddhist monk Wilatha is trying to play a part in saving hundreds of snakes that might otherwise be killed or destined for the black market.

Wilatha has created a refuge for snakes ranging from vipers to cobras to pythons at the Seikta Thukha TetOo monastery in the commercial city of Yangon.

Government agencies and residents of the city including the fire department, have been bringing captured snakes to the monk since the launch of the snake refuge, five years back.

“Once people catch snakes, they will likely try to find a buyer,” said Wilatha, who looks after them and treats them as his children and even uses his saffron robe to clean the snake.

Wilatha also said that having such a sanctuary in mainly-Buddhist Myanmar means people can gain ‘merit’ by giving the snakes to a monk rather than killing or selling them and he feels he is helping protect the natural ecological cycle, rightly so.

According to conservationists, Myanmar has become a global hub in the illegal wildlife trade with snakes often smuggled to neighboring countries like China and Thailand.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature has listed the Burmese python as “vulnerable” in its native Southeast Asia, despite being considered in some parts of the world as an invasive species.

The monthly expenses of roughly $ 300 per month to feed the snakes are managed by Wilatha relying on donations. He only keeps them until he feels they are ready to go back to the wild.

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