Keep Sarp at the zoo
By Sasha Harrinanan Thursday, January 10 2013
“Should the 18-foot, 220-pound green anaconda remain at the Emperor Valley Zoo, Port-of-Spain or be released back into the wild?” The answer from many people is “no.”
Nicknamed “Sarp” in reference to “Sarpa”, the Hindi word for snake, this “magnificent specimen” has been drawing huge crowds at the Emperor Valley Zoo where she is currently under observation, following her discovery by two security guards while on patrol on a private road in Caroni, on December 30 last.
Although research is being done by the Zoological Society of Trinidad and Tobago (ZSTT) and its United States-based consultant herpetologist, John Seyjagat, to determine the best course of action, there seems to be growing consensus that the snake should stay at the zoo.
Newsday has received several “Letters to the Editor” in recent days, all advocating Sarp become a permanent part of the zoo’s Reptile Exhibit.
The reasons for such action ranged from concern for the snake’s chances of survival, if not released into her actual territory and/or if she encounters humans intent on doing her harm, to fears of at least one Caroni resident that Sarp may end up eating a child, or animal, while hunting food in the area.
In his “Letter to the Editor” Seyjagat, who is the Curator of the Australian Exhibit at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, USA, identified several reasons why the snake should be kept at the zoo on a medium-term and permanent basis.
Referring to the neck injuries and trauma Sarp suffered during her capture and subsequent relocation from the wild to a man-made enclosure, the herpetologist advised keeping her under observation for at least three months.
“During this time the animal should be observed for secondary illness due to stress and trauma suffered during its initial capture. This animal should make a full recovery. It is important to collect any and all faecal matter from this animal to determine what is its prey species, what was its last meal, and what gastrointestinal parasites it may harbour.”
Post-recovery, Seyjagat warned of the consequences of releasing Sarp in the same area where she was captured because “we cannot be sure that this animal is a resident of this locality.”
“(Sarp) may be a new arrival and returning this snake to this locality will put it at risk of demise. The area is defined by roadways and human habitation. The environment does not support and sustain an large prey population (caiman, turtles, mammals or waterfowl). The locality inevitably puts the snake in conflict with people using the area, residents farm and pet owners in the area.”
Noting snakes have a tendency to “go home”, Seyjagat said relocation to an area outside of her territory “will inevitably place the anaconda at risk of destruction crossing roadways or coming into contact with humans.” He also pointed out that if Sarp chose to make a new location “home”, this would lead to “competition and the displacement of other anacondas” in the area.
The Trinidad-born herpetologist supported his recommendation by quoting similar observations made by his colleague and Curator of Herpetology at the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York, Don Boyer.
“It is unbelievable that such a large snake went unnoticed, any relocation will surely bring this animal into conflict with humans. Studies have shown that there is poor survivorship in snake translocation,” Boyer stated. In turn, Seyjagat cited the fact that “there is a cultural snake phobia in Trinidad. Any contact between snake and humans results in dead snake. This snake should not be placed in a situation where there is the most remote possibility of a snake/human conflict that can result in its demise.”
He added that Sarp’s case has “exemplified the need for stronger wildlife and habitat protection and restoration” in TT.
One day later, Newsday reader R. John urged the authorities to “pay heed to (Seyjagat’s) recommendation to keep Sarp at the Zoo and not relocate her.”
Describing Seyjagat’s advice as “a sensible approach,” John said “this snake is a scientific marvel and so much can be learnt to add to the information we have about this snake.”
Having seen Sarp in person during a visit to the zoo last Saturday, he shared his concern that given the “human-snake conflict” in Trinidad, the snake would be “doomed to death upon release. (Therefore) Sarp’s best chance of survival is at this new home she has been provided with,” John wrote.
Caroni resident, J Ramoutar, also urged authorities not to release the 18-foot anaconda but cited the safety of humans, their pets and livestock instead.
“Please leave that monster anaconda at the Zoo. I am afraid that if it is returned to the area, we will be in danger and the small children could be swallowed by this huge snake.”
Ramoutar expressed shock that a snake of this size “was lurking in our area and we were going about our business without a care of what could happen if we had come upon it. I read on the internet that in South America where these snakes are also found, they have a name for it of “bull-killer” as it could take down animals of that size. So putting back this snake there is going to put us in danger.”
What this Caroni resident wrote next embodied the fear of snakes that both Seyjagat and R John cited when recommending Sarp remain at the zoo - “We do not want to kill the snake as it has not harmed us, but for our safety if we see it, the first response would be to kill it.”
This is exactly what has happened to other snakes released into the wild after being removed from their natural habitat.
In his “Letter to the Editor” at Newsday, Curator of Herpetology at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, Florida, Dino Ferri said based on his research, “every research article out there has a bad ending for translocated snakes.”
“A snake will not sleep, eat, rest until it makes its way back to its home range (or wherever the animal was headed). Most of the time, this ends up with a dead snake due to human interaction of some kind (road kill, shot, chopped with machete, et cetera. As Chair of the American Zoo Association, Snake TAG, I would strongly recommend Sarp be kept in captivity now since there are so many unknowns about its home location and releasing it almost guarantees its death.”