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Thai Press: Sausage rates well on cobra's menu

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Posted by W von Papinešu on December 26, 2002 at 21:05:47:

An older item ... but possibly of some modest interest ...

THE NATION (Bangkok, Thailand) 27 January 02 Snake-Farming: Sausage rates well on cobra's menu (Pennapa Hongthong)
As humans encroach on the habitat of snakes, it is vital to maintain a proper diet for those bred in captivity
He is about five years old. When I visited him one afternoon he was lying on the floor of a small room. He was munching on a pork sausage about one foot long that had been specially prepared.
People at his home said he was cute and obedient. However, I did not dare touch him or even get close to him. Only my photographer crept close enough to take his picture. Not because he has any serious communicable disease, but because he is a king cobra.
Yes, a king cobra, one of about 40 bred by veterinarians at the Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute's Snake Farm. OH6/2539 is his code.
If his fellows who were born in natural surroundings met him, they might laugh. The species survives by eating other live snakes, but he has enjoyed meals of pork sausage since he was born five years ago.
Veterinarian Lawan Chanhome, who initiated the idea to feed him and his friends sausage, said it was difficult to find live snakes in Bangkok since most snake habitats had been developed and converted for human habitation.
The farm's breeding project for poisonous snakes was initiated in 1994, but the first generation of snakes to be born there arrived two years later. OH6/2539 is one of that generation. The project produces snake-bite serum for humans.
Lawan said the amount of serum that can be extracted from natural-born king cobras is now insufficient because their numbers have been drastically reduced as humans have encroached on their environment.
Although the number of people who are bitten by the deadly snake is decreasing because of the reduction in snake numbers, it is the responsibility of the institute to prepare the serum in case of emergencies, said Lawan.
Initially the farm was able to buy water snakes and Indochinese rat snakes to feed the cobras in the breeding programme. However, when the young snakes become bigger, they need more food than the farm can supply.
The idea of pork sausage came to Lawan when snakes in the programme began dying off because of a shortage of food.
She found the idea in an American magazine for owners of reptiles as exotic pets. Instant food made from fresh meat is common in the United States.
Fresh minced pork mixed with the necessary vitamins and calcium is shaped into sausages and has become the regular diet of the king cobras at the Snake Farm.
Lawan said the reptile would not eat if their food did not come in the long shape of their natural food, other snakes.
It is not easy to change the habits of the king cobra. The vet has to add snake scent to the sausage, otherwise the snakes will not eat it. Snakes do not eat frequently, and a 30-centimetre sausage is enough to keep the reptile going for two weeks.
While OH6/2539 was enjoying his sausage, some of his friends in cages, who are younger than him, were trying to eat dead rats. Lawan said it would be great if she could train the new generation of snakes to eat rat since it would save time, but cobras didn't cope well with rats. "Rats' legs sometimes stick in a snake's throat," said one of Lawan's assistants.
After the meal, OH6/2539 was put back in the cage that has been his home for some time. I said goodbye to him - from a distance of course - before the door was securely closed.

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