Snakes, a reptile feared by many Fijians, are being kept as pets in the homes of a small expatriate community, it has been revealed. The Fiji Sun found two of
07 Jan 2018 11:41
Helen Sykes in Lami on January 6, 2018 with her pet snakes. Photo: Vilimoni Vaganalau

Snakes, a reptile feared by many Fijians, are being kept as pets in the homes of a small expatriate community, it has been revealed.

The Fiji Sun found two of the pet snake lovers in the wake of the discovery of a large Pacific Boa Constrictor in the Lovoni forests on Ovalau a few days ago.

The domesticated snakes are all Pacific Boa, a non-poisonous species that is native to Fiji.

Helen Sykes, a marine ecologist originally from England who has lived in Fiji for 21 years, keeps five healthy Pacific Boa in her house in Lami, ranging from 1.5-2.5 metres long. She vouches that they are tame and safe and pose no danger to humans.

Ms Sykes has lived with snakes for 30 years and says she finds them “cute and cuddly – even though they have bitten her a few times by mistake.

Often, her snakes coil around her neck as she watches television or reads a book.

“I don’t know what it is,” she said. “When I was a kid and other little girls were playing with dolls I had rubber snakes.

“It’s not like keeping a cat or a dog. I tell people it’s like keeping a gold fish but you can take it out and play with it.”

This particular species of snake, owing to its tame nature, is the most commonly found pet snake in the Fiji.

While many in the country think an encounter with a snake is comparable to a death sentence, a select few remain fascinated by them.

The ecology consultant’s snakes feed once every two weeks which, according to Wikipedia, is a normal eating habit for the species.

They typically eat geckos or cockerels. The constrictor bites down on the meal, using its mouth as a pivot to wrap around and crush the prey with a powerful body before swallowing it whole.

But the house cat is never in danger, she says, because although Pacific Boas have a taste for warm-blooded creatures, they do not normally go for prey too large to swallow.

Yet Ms Sykes says snakes do not make good pets unless people are ready to put in undivided effort into caring for them.

“I don’t encourage people to keep snakes and it’s particularly not a good pet for children,” she said.

“But if you’re going to, they need what every other animal needs: a decent size place to live, they need (access to) heights, fresh water all the time and they need to be fed animals not fruits or milk.”

Alexander Feussner, 24, is a German national living in Fiji for the last 18 years.

Mr Feussner has a two-year-old Pacific Boa he keeps close to him in his Caubati home, Nasinu between Suva and Nausori.

As well as downplaying the fear factor surrounding the reptile, Mr Feussner says snakes only bite humans in self-defence.

He inherited the adult snake, named Jessica, two years ago and admits the reptile has to be left alone when it becomes moody.

Otherwise, it has been smooth-sailing for the University of the South Pacific student, who says he finds the creature “mystical.”

“When I used to feed Jessica (the snake) with a mynah bird using my hand, it used to bite my hand in confusion,” he added.

“Snakes are easier to handle compared to other common pets. For example, they do not eat or excrete as much as dogs.

“To be honest, I love my pet snake like anyone would love his dog or cat. The first time I touched it I wasn’t scared at all – I just like snakes.”

Former Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals veterinarian, Doctor Jessica Hoopes, said ownership of exotic animals still carried welfare concerns.

“Ownership of exotic pet species, particularly wild animal species that have been sourced in the wild and brought into captivity, is a topic of considerable controversy,” she said.

“(This is) as a result of animal welfare concerns associated with all parts of the exotic animal trade and snakes are no exception.

“Exotic animal species, in particular reptiles and amphibians that have unique and varied husbandry requirements, given the susceptibility of their physiology to environmental changes, each have very unique environmental and nutritional requirements that can be difficult to meet in captivity.

“For this reason, mortality rates in these species can be very high (and) compounded by the very limited veterinary resources available in this country, the welfare concerns for ownership of these species are considerable.”

Edited by Naisa Koroi


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