A story that “invasive” eight foot long snakes have been found living in London by the Regent’s Canal has grown into Snakezilla proportions since it broke this weekend. The Aesculapian reptiles, believed to have escaped some years ago from London Zoo, and are acknowledged not to be venomous.
At first, it was widely reported that they were capable of strangling rats and other small mammals, which is predictable diet for an average snake. Now, thanks to a concern raised by mum-of-three Sylvia Taylor, 33, they are deemed “deadly” and “can squeeze a small child to death.” Taylor is said to have asked a Daily Star journalist about the possibility the snakes could constrict small children.
The potential “killer” snakes have been spotted climbing up drainpipes, in trees and on rooftops, which is funny, as nobody ever saw them or worried about them before. Another theory about them is that they were released as part of a secretive scientific experiment in the nineties. What the experiment was, and what its intentions were, have not been stated. Either way, the reptiles have been around for quite a while.
Perhaps it is something to do with the current political climate, heavily focused on the challenge to the established political parties by the emergent United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). This new party is not keen on “invasive species”of the human variety and seeks to curb immigration into Britain. These snakes have been dubbed “a non-native species of high concern” which is not unlike how UKIP would describe Romanians seeking to build a better life for themselves in the UK.
An expert on such hazards says the snakes are “non-problematic.” Dr Wolfgang Wuster of Bangor University says any attempt to launch a cull would limit resources for dealing with the many more damaging species out there. Dr Wuster asks, from a “wider and more philosophical point of view,” what species we should be intent on conserving. A colony of the snakes has lived harmlessly in the North Welsh mountains for many decades, after also escaping from a zoo.
Some introduced invasive species have been cause for great concern in recent years. The plants Himalayan Balsam and Japanese Knotweed, for example, have proven particularly impossible to control and eradicate and they are detrimental to watercourses, choking them and killing aquatic life. It cost a staggering £70 million to clear Japanese knotweed from the site of the London Olympics prior to building construction.
Described as “beasts” by the Daily Mail, the snakes have been hyped into an overnight calamitous threat. Wuster casts a more realistic spin when he cautions that the idea that we can preserve the fauna and flora in the UK as “some sort of pre-industrial vicarage garden” without change occurring, is farcical.
The demand for 24 hour global news feeds does lend itself to this sort of headline hyperbole, where stories are beefed up to catch the ever-diminishing attention span of the average reader. Snakes that are “capable” of crushing a child to death are far more interesting than ones living by a canal and doing a good job of keeping down the rat and pigeon populations.
Britain has always been a country of very few natural threats. The only native species that is actually poisonous is the adder, living on remote heathlands. There are no active volcanoes, damaging earthquakes, cyclones, twisters or bushfires. There are no man-eating wild beasts at large, no dangerous spiders, not even a shark offshore, except the odd basking one. It’s small wonder that the Brits freak out at the prospect of a child-devouring scaly intruder.
The fact that there are wild snakes living in London, in a highly populated area very popular with tourists, is certainly a story. Whether it is worthy of the Boa proportions to which it has been inflated, is more questionable.
Opinion by Kate Henderson