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Nursing snakes in Hanoi’s bosom

Downtown Hanoi is crawling with dozens of colorful snakes, thanks to one man’s fascination for the reptiles.

Vu Thanh Tung, 30 years old, owns 15 nonpoisonous snake varieties that come from the arid regions in the Americas, like Florida state or Canada. All the pets are placed in a 20m2 room in Dong Da district, one of the most populated areas in Hanoi. He started petting snakes as a hobby in 2008. When I was little, my uncle had a Python molurus which I loved. When I was familiarized with this hobby, I started importing foreign snakes and raising them. What unique about snakes is that there are countless colors and thousands of characteristics. Its easy to raise and take care of them, Tung said.

Vu Thanh Tung, 30, owns 15 nonpoisonous snake species that come from arid regions in America, like Florida state, or Canada. He keeps them in a 20 square metres room in Dong Da District, one of the most thickly populated areas in Hanoi. Tung started acquiring snakes as pets in 2008. He says: “When I was young, my uncle had a python which I loved. When I became familiar with this hobby, I started importing foreign snakes and raising them. What is unique about snakes is that they are of countless colors and have thousands of characteristics. It’s easy to raise and take care of them.”

The first few years were not easy for Tung. Newly arrived snakes were stressed and skipped meals. Inexperienced, Tung tried to feed them directly, causing them to feel more distress and eventually die. He found out later on that snakes can survive for months without food.  In 2010, Tung was devastated when nearly 30 snakes died of sickness. But he did not give up on his passion and bought more home.

The first few years were not easy for Tung. The newly arrived snakes were stressed and refused to eat. Inexperienced, Tung tried to hand-feed them, making them more distressed and to eventually die. He found out later that snakes can survive for months without food. In 2010 he was devastated when nearly 30 snakes died of sickness. But he did not give up on his passion and brought more home..

One time, a 3-month old milk snake had fungal infection because Tung did not clean its cage properly. He was constantly moving for more than 10 days and the owner did not understand why. A doctor advised Tung to use antiseptics on him and luckily, the snake recovered after one week of treatment. This incident prompted Tung to learn about snakes medical issues, such as diarrhea, internal worms, and fungal infections and how to get rid of them. Now he is confident that he can cure most health problems his snakes experience.

One time a 3-month-old milk snake had fungal infection because Tung did not clean its cage properly. It was constantly moving for more than 10 days and the owner did not understand why. A vet advised him to use antiseptics and luckily the snake recovered after a week’s treatment. This incident prompted Tung to learn about snake’s medical issues, such as diarrhea, intestinal worms and fungal infections and how to treat them. Now he is confident he can cure most health problems his snakes face.

Tung has increasing snakes every day so he resorts to his brothers assistance, Vu Xuan Kien, 21 years old. Inspired by his big brother, Kien is also enthusiastically curious about reptiles and currently have close relationships with experts in this field from Florida, U.S.

Tung has an increasing number of snakes every day and so seeks assistance from his brother, Vu Xuan Kien, 21. Inspired by his big brother, Kien is also enthusiastic and curious about the reptiles and has got in close touch with herpetologists in Florida, the U.S.

Corn snake is the first kind that Tung interacted with and successfully bred with another one in 2015. The species is quite meek and peaceful.

The corn snake was the first kind Tung ever interacted with, and successfully bred one with another in 2015. The species is quite meek and peaceful.

Albino garter snake from southern Florida is quite rare, though its value is low. Tung had to spend months scanning the foreign reptile communities to look for this snake. Not many snake owners are aware of the existence of garter snake. Tung looks forward to breeding this snake with another type.

An albino garter snake from southern Florida is quite rare though its value is low. Tung had to spend months searching for it. Not many snake owners are aware of the existence of the garter snake. Tung looks forward to breeding it.

Red tail boa is the most aggressive species in the domesticated snake family, with a maximum length of about 1.2 meters. At first, it often bit Tung, albeit painless bites. All types of pythons and snakes will never bite or squeeze your hand when you hold them. However, the snake will be triggered and go on attack mode if you open the cage and touch it on the head first, Tung added.

The red tail boa is the most aggressive of his snakes, growing to a maximum length of around 1.2 meters. At first it often bit Tung, albeit painlessly, but he figured out what caused the aggression later on. “Snakes will never bite or squeeze your hand when you hold them. However, the snake will be triggered and go into attack mode if you open the cage and touch it on the head first.”

Petting snakes as a hobby does not take up much space. Dozens of Tungs snakes are housed in small perforated plastic boxes and placed neatly in his house corners.

Petting snakes as a hobby does not take up much space. Dozens of Tung’s snakes are housed in small perforated plastic boxes and placed neatly in his house corners.

Kien said it does not need a lot of efforts to care for pythons and snakes. You would change papers on the cage bottoms every three to four days. They are neither dirty nor smelly. They only need to be fed once a week because hibernating animals digest quite slowly. They eat Albinic mice which costs about 5,000 VND per mouse. The pets also need to be bathed once a week for 5 minutes in lukewarm water.

Kien said snakes are not high-maintenance. You can change the paper in the cage bottom every three to four days. They are neither dirty nor smelly. They only need to be fed once a week because they digest food quite slowly. They eat mice, which cost about VND5,000 ($0.22) each. The pets also need to be bathed once a week for 5 minutes in lukewarm water.

Tung said you should not approach a snake from the top, because their mortal enemies are flying creatures like eagles and hawks. Washing your hand is crucial when switching from one snake to another to avoid provoking them with the scent on your fingers because they can pick up on that. Domesticated snakes do not transmit infections to humans.

Tung was a well-known animation artist who graduated from the Hanoi University of Theater and Cinema. Because of his fascination for reptiles, he quit his job to raise snakes.

He earns a steady income from providing breeding services where snakes of other owners can be bred with his. He also takes orders to buy snakes from the U.S., Canada and elsewhere for anyone interested.

The majority of his clients are in Hanoi from diverse age and sex groups. He estimated that there are about 200 snake owners in Hanoi.


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