AVA investigating alleged mishandling of 3m-long python found outside Tang Plaza

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A clip of the incident shows the python attacking one of the men from a pest control firm. The Animal Concerns Research and Education Society believes the man was bitten. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/RABBIKHAN KHAN

SINGAPORE - Some shoppers along Orchard Road were in for a slithering shock on Tuesday morning (Jan 29).

Readers told The Straits Times that they saw a large snake outside Tang Plaza at around 9am.

In response to ST's queries, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) said that the python has been removed and handed over to Wildlife Reserves Singapore.

Housewife Tess Fernando, 49, said that her son saw it on his way to school at around 8.20am, and had sent her a photo of the snake.

"I went down to see it for myself - and there it was. It was huge, really long and big," she told ST, adding that a large crowd had gathered by the time she arrived.

In a video provided by Ms Fernando, at least five men can be seen struggling with the large snake as it thrashes about, resisting capture.

A passer-by, who wished to be known only as Ms Goh, said that she was on the way to work when she saw staff from a pest control firm trying to remove the reptile.

"There was some difficulty in (putting) the snake into a bag. I was initially informed by a friend who was on a bus passing by that there was a snake," said the 27-year-old executive, who works in retail.

She added that a security guard from Tang Plaza helped out as well.

In one photo, the snake can be seen coiled under a stone bench just outside the Orchard Road MRT station exit near Tangs. It appears to be about 3m long.

In a video provided by Ms Goh, about seven to eight men can be seen struggling to get the snake into a brown bag.

Several passers-by can be seen with their phones out, recording the process, crowding around a barricade that appears to have been set up by Tang Plaza. ST has contacted Tang Plaza for more information.

When attempts to bag the python fail, three men are seen in clips carrying the snake away. Some of the men handling the snake wear shirts indicating they are from Anticimex, a pest control firm. But Anticimex said it could not comment on the incident.

In other clips of the incident, the snake appears to attack one of the men. The Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) believes the man was bitten.

Experts ST spoke to raised concerns about the treatment of the snake.

"The handling of the snake is terrible... The snake was stepped on and handled very roughly," said Acres deputy chief executive Kalai Vanan.

He added that snakes are wild animals protected by law and deserve better handling and care.

Veteran wildlife expert Subaraj Rajathurai said the way the snake was handled was "abusive, untrained and uncaring", citing video clips showing how it was being dragged. He told ST that pest control firms should not be called to handle snakes.

"You call pest control for rats. Snakes, which are wild animals, are not pests. These firms are not usually trained to handle such animals," said the founder of Strix Wildlife Consultancy.

Mr Subaraj, who has over 25 years of experience in the field, recommended calling Acres.

Acres said: "We urge members of the public to call the Acres wildlife rescue hotline at 9783-7782 should wild animals be sighted in distress."

AVA said it is investigating the alleged mishandling of the snake, and added that cruelty to animals is an offence under the Animals & Birds Act.

AVA issues guidelines on proper handling of snakes to all pest control and wildlife management agencies here, it said.

For example, snakes should not be unduly harmed by those handling them and appropriate equipment should be used to catch them.

"AVA investigates all feedback relating to animal cruelty, and will not hesitate to take enforcement actions against offenders," it said.

Mr Subaraj added that it is likely the snake emerged from the drainage system connected to the underground Stamford Canal that runs along Orchard Road, which animals use to get around.

"Such incidents have been going on for years as we keep on clearing natural areas where these animals live," he added.

Earlier this month, The New Paper reported that a family found a python in the toilet of their Housing Board flat in Eunos.

Last October, a woman was bitten by a python outside her Sembawang Drive home.

Reticulated pythons are endemic to Singapore. They are the most common type of snakes found here, feeding on rats and other small animals.

They are shy and usually avoid human contact, but are capable of turning aggressive if they feel threatened.

AVA advised members of the public not to approach, disturb, feed or try to catch any wildlife, including snakes.

"Keep a safe distance from the animals and avoid confronting or cornering them. Do not interact with the animals, and ensure that young children and pets are kept away from them," it added.

More information can be found at AVA's website. Members of the public can also call AVA at 1800-476-1600 to give feedback or to request assistance.

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