As you walk around the ramparts of Galle Fort in Sri Lanka you will come across snake charmers. If you take a photograph of them they expect payment. If you do not give them any money they become angry and may follow you with a snake in their hand threaten you with it until you hand over some coins.
Galle Fort Rampart Snake Charmers
Thankfully snake charming is on the decline due to the introduction of wildlife protection legislation and better awareness of animal health due to TV documentaries. In the past it was a common sight to see groups of snake charmers carrying cloth covered wicker baskets on long poles walking to their favourite spot.
Local children used to be fascinated by the snakes and would hurry to watch then when they heard the flute being played. Now they stay away as they are more interested in playing games on their phones or listening to music on their game-boy.
Animal welfare charities criticise the way that the snakes are captured from the wild and incarcerated in a small wicker basket for most of their life. The snake charmers rip out the venomous fangs from the snake's mouth with long handled metal pliers. This has to be done a number of times in the snake's life as they grow back. The snake is not medicated for this procedure.
This sometimes leads to the snake's premature death as the wounds can get infected. If tourists avoid giving money to snake charmers then gradually more and more would seek other employment as they find they cannot make enough money to live on. That would mean more snakes would be left in peace in the wild to hunt rodents.
Cobra snakes are the most favoured species because of their frightening reputation as being a venomous man killing snake and the dramatic hood. These captured wild snakes are forced to live in a small dark wicker basket. As soon as the lid is opened the snake rears up its head in a defensive stance. It spreads its oval shaped hood to make it appear bigger. This is a natural response of a startled snake in fear of its life. This is what you are seeing every time the snake charmer gets a cobra to perform.
The snake is not comfortable. It is under stress and makes attempts to defend itself. Cobras cannot hear like we do. In fact the respond more to the sight of the swaying flute than any sound it is making. Why doesn't the snake attack? During their training they have learnt that the flute is made of a hard material and hurts. The snake charmer knows how far to distance himself from the snake to avoid being bitten. Unlike a rattle snake a Cobra's attack range is only one third of its body length. The snake charmer uses the flute to create a safe distance.