Pythons, vipers, and cobras — these are some of the main occupants being offered a safe haven at a temple sanctuary in Myanmar’s city of Yangon. The host and caretaker is Buddhist monk Wilatha, who’s trying to play a part in saving scores of snakes that might otherwise be killed or sold on the black market.
Since the 69-year-old monk launched the refuge five years ago, residents and government agencies, including the fire department, have been bringing captured snakes to him for protection.
“Once people catch snakes, they will likely try to find a buyer,” said Wilatha. Having such a sanctuary in mainly-Buddhist Myanmar means that people can gain ‘merit’ by giving the snakes to a monk who will look after them rather than kill or sell them, explained the monk.
Among the species brought to the temple is the Burmese python. While considered an invasive species in some parts of the world, the python has been listed as “vulnerable” in its native Southeast Asia by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Relying on donations for about $300 a month to feed the snakes, the monk only keeps them until he feels they’re ready to go back into the wild. While happy to see the snakes slither into freedom when released, Wilatha remains concerned about their future.