Quecchi women meet Rax Bolay
I find working in the tropics both exhilarating and exhausting. The thrill of finding a snake, lizard or frog in the jungle keeps me going through the tired times. However, one of the most rewarding activities for me is talking to members of the communities near our study sites.
People often have never had the opportunity to see reptiles and amphibians up close and may not have even seen many of the species found in their own ‘backyard.’ This is especially the case where snakes are concerned. When people are going about their daily business coming across a snake can elicit many feelings. But an overriding experience is one of shock that is generated by the surprise of suddenly coming across something you can neither hear nor smell, overlaid with an inherent fear many people feel towards snakes. Combine that experience with the fact that most people know that some snakes can kill them, and that few people have the knowledge to correctly tell those from the harmless ones. It is no wonder then that so many people in the tropics feel to kill the snake on sight out of concerns not only for their own safety, but also that of their loved ones.
Over the many years I have worked with snakes in a variety of settings, I have seen time and time again that with a little encouragement, and a calm controlled setting, people are able to get through their preconceptions of what a snake is, and to start to appreciate the beauty of the colours, the patterns, the movement. You can see the prejudice slipping away, even if just a little, and that is an amazing thing to help facilitate.
During our expedition to Alta Verapaz in May 2015 I had several opportunities to talk with Quecchi Mayans from the local communities about reptiles and amphibians. The most memorable of which involved the pitviper known locally as Rax Bolay (Bothriechis aurifer). This is a species I have wanted to see for many years. When I finally did, I was also able to show this beautiful snake to a group of Quecchi women.
The Rax Bolay is much feared among the Quecchi and is traditionally killed on sight for fear of receiving a bite from this green jewel of the forest. From a safe distance I was able to show the group this snake in a controlled environment and after the squeaming died down the women were able to observe a Rax Bolay without their normal worries.
I hope that this experience will have helped these women see this creatures in a different light, and certainly some of them were bringing us snakes they had found while tending the fields. One by one attitudes may be changing and that can only be a good thing.
Snake education with Quecchi women and Rax Bolay
Weighing Rax Bolay