It’s not uncommon at all to have a fear of snakes. The word alone can hiss out from the lips – ‘ssssnake’ – and can bring shivers down your spine. In Indonesian the word is not quite so evocative – ular. It almost sounds like a perky French phrase. ‘Ooh la!’ But in a pinch I can imagine someone running away, waving their arms in the air, shrieking ‘ulaaar!’
In Balinese the word is lipi. There is no way I can imagine lipi to be a scary word. It has such a friendly sound, like a name for a guinea pig. Or a snail, as in, ‘Oh no, I just trod on a lipi.’
But what is in a name? They are still the same animal in any language, though of course we see them differently the way they are named. We have had five snake sightings in our yard in Sanur in the past three weeks. The first was killed, one got away, and three others were caught. When I saw the small dead snake I was concerned. But not as alarmed as when the three that were captured were identified as baby Spitting Cobras. Cobras just sounds like bad news in English. And ones that spit must be far worse!
In Indonesian, however, Ular Sendok (Spoon Snake) doesn’t really inspire terrifying images of hooded cobras rearing up preparing to strike. And the Balinese name, Lipi Oh, even less so.
Don’t panic – call an expert
I’ve since learnt a lot about snakes in Bali and discovered that we have had one of the most dangerous snakes coming through our yard in recent weeks. There are around 40 types of snakes in Bali and only six are identified as highly venomous and potentially dangerous to people. Of these, only four are common and only two often found in the southern Bali built up areas – and the other one usually stays in trees. So we have been unlucky.
Expert advice from Ron Lilley suggests they are coming from the snake haven that is the empty block next door and using our yard as a thoroughfare. Extensive cleaning up of bamboo clumps and leaf litter is now underway as is blocking drains, cracks and mystery holes in the ground.
But as Peter, a volunteer from Bali Reptile Rescue, said, “when you live in the tropics expect to get snakes.”
Advice from both these snake experts includes: it’s no use to spread sulphur everywhere – too much of that yellow powder will only kill your lawn. It is advisable to teach the kids what to do if they see a snake (stand still, yell out and walk backwards keeping your eye on the snake). And keep the yard so tidy it offers little cover for snakes to visit. Also, be particularly alert in the beginning of the wet season as that is when baby cobras are hatching and start looking for frogs to eat. Rain means more frogs which means more snakes.
Other snakes, though, prefer to live off mice and rats, especially pythons. And quite a few large specimens have been caught in Sanur in recent years. “It’s been a good period for snakes – or bad – depending on your point of view,” said Ron. According to Ron, pythons live all around us unnoticed because they are feeding on rats. But it is when they become big enough for cats and dogs to start disappearing that people notice and call in a snake catcher.
Only a few months ago Ron was at our block, this time to remove a three-metre long python in the roof of our neighbour’s house. It hadn’t been there long, but long enough for two cats to go missing, presumed eaten. Our neighbours know exactly how long the snake had been there because later, their other neighbours told them they had seen the snake going onto their roof. But neglected to tell them! How does someone not go and immediately tell their neighbour this!?
This snake was even longer than the 2.5-metre long reticulated python found in our own ceiling, the year before we moved in. It looked pretty cosy in our ceiling cavity, above the master bedroom ensuite, and there was speculation it had been busily eating its way through the rodent population of the house before the smell eventually attracted some notice.
The most famous python caught in Bali in recent years would have to be the 4.5-metre-long one that killed a man near the Hyatt Hotel in Sanur (the hotel is empty while it undergoes renovation). Sadly, it seems it was a desire to pose for a photo that saw Ambar Arianto Mulyo wrap the snake (believed dead) around his neck. As quickly became obvious, the python wasn’t dead, and revived suddenly to break his neck. A shocking example of how it is people’s actions that usually cause injury from snakes.
On the other hand, a friend’s mother woke up in her house in the backblocks of Surabaya one day with a snake sleeping beside her. She didn’t panic and the snake simply left.
Now that I am more educated about snakes, I’m going to try and think more like a Hindu Balinese. Snakes have their place and they are all going about their business that usually has nothing to do with us. It may even be possible to be reincarnated as a snake. As long as it is not a poisonous snake that could bite my children if they were unlucky enough to stand on it, I will be sanguine. Just another lipi passing through? Ok. Selamat jalan.
Contacts for snake catchers in Bali
Bali Reptile Rescue