Sharing an interest in exotic pets

Updated: 2011-10-06 08:04

By Xu Lin (China Daily)

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 Sharing an interest in exotic pets

Xiong and her snake. She prefers venomous creatures such as the green bamboo snake and the long-nosed pit viper. Photos Provided to China Daily

Sharing an interest in exotic pets

From venomous snakes to spiders, some people will find any creature a home, Xu Lin reports in Beijing.

Xiong Xiangyun, 22, has a wrist-thick Suriname red tail boa around her neck. It's not a circus show. The snake is one of her favorite pets. Xiong, who works for a real estate company in Guiyang, capital of Southwest China's Guizhou province, has been raising snakes for about seven years. "As a diehard pet fan, I like to see an animal at home after work but it's impossible to keep a dog because of my busy job," she said. "It's convenient to raise snakes. They are pretty, clean and fascinating. I like to feel the touch of their cool bodies, especially in summer."

Xiong is a typical payou, the name given to people who raise snakes, tortoises, lizards, spiders, frogs and crocodiles as pets. She mainly communicates with other reptile fans via a famous payou forum, which was established in 2002 and now has nearly 100,000 registered members.

According to a recent poll on the forum, among 529 voters, about 47 percent of them are students, and their ages range from 15 to 30.

Xiong prefers venomous creatures such as the green bamboo snake and the long-noded pit viper because of their bright colors.

"My mom used to be against me raising vipers but is now in love with the gorgeous creatures," she said.

She has raised 10 snakes of different species but now only keeps a green bamboo snake and a green iguana. She sent her boa to her friend temporarily because she has no time to take care of it but visits once a week.

The green snake lives in a big box with newspaper on the bottom and a bowl of water. She feeds it a small white mouse costing 5 yuan (78 US cents) twice a week and sprays water in its home every three days to keep it humid.

Like most payou, she gives or sells her pets to others when she can't raise them any more, and sometimes her snakes die from illness. As there are few reptile hospitals in the nation, payou have to learn various skills to keep their pets healthy and treat them properly. They share their experiences on the Internet.

"Sometimes I feel connected to them. The boa's tail was hurt once, but it recovered well when I applied medicine to it," she said.

She was scared of the cold-blooded animals at first so she started with domestically raised water snakes that don't bite.

It's rare for a snake enthusiast not to get bitten, however careful its owner may be.

Once Xiong went to Huadiwan, a flower and bird market in Guangzhou that sells all sorts of pets including reptiles. Seeing a cute snake, she couldn't help but hold it in her hand to play with it but the snake bit her suddenly.

"I'm lucky it was not a viper and it only hurt a little bit. It's the first and only time I was bitten and I even took a photo with my mobile to mark the occasion," she said.

"If a viper's fangs are taken away, it can't eat and will die. We have to follow the natural rules."

Xiong knows how an angry snake behaves. They hiss, flick out their tongues or puff up their bodies. She seldom holds her green bamboo snake because it could be lethal.

Nangong Dumu, 25, a designer in water conservancy and agriculture industries, agreed with her.

"My biggest wish is to raise my pets well. I never put poisonous snakes or spiders on my body because it's risky. I keep them out of fondness, not to show off," he said.

He has spent nearly 10,000 yuan on reptiles since he was a primary school student. He says the prices of reptiles range from a few dozen yuan to more than 100,000 yuan, and some rare foreign species are even more expensive.

"One should be very careful because reptiles need carefully controlled living conditions, such as temperature, humidity and sunshine. For alien species, one can't simply desert them in the wild because it may lead to an invasion of alien species," he said.

He said one has to invest money and energy in raising reptiles, and inexperienced breeding may cause their deaths. Reptiles are susceptible to illness and one has to keep learning breeding knowledge.

However, he pointed out many popular reptiles in the market are protected animals and it's illegal for individuals to raise them.

Xiong said she was not aware of that and buys her pets from pet stores, as do many payou.

According to China's Law on the Protection of Wild Animals, which was passed in 1988, individuals or farms have to get a permit to sell, buy or raise State-protected animals.

"It's difficult to apply for a permit. Most payou don't bother. Besides, supervision is not tight," said Gong Shiping, an associate researcher with the South China Institute of Endangered Animals in Guangzhou.

In 1981, China signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which aims to ensure the international trade of wild animals and plants doesn't threaten their survival in the wild.

"The convention only restricts international trade of such animals. For those who buy foreign species from domestic sellers, there is a gray area in law because it's not an international trade," Gong said.

He said most payou keep animals carefully and some even master advanced breeding skills.

"Other payou ply the trade internationally. As a result many endangered foreign animals are on sale in the market, and they may become extinct in the wild. The situation is the same in China because many foreigners are buying endangered animals in China. There is a risk of invasion by exotic species, too," he said.

(China Daily 10/06/2011 page8)