The Dragon Boat Festival, which falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, is traditionally seen as a time when evil spirits are awakened, but the Taipei City Zoo is using the opportunity to educate the public about these so-called “heinous” animals long misunderstood in traditional Chinese culture.
Snakes, scorpions, centipedes, toads and geckos — also known as the “five poisons” — were believed to be evil in ancient Chinese culture and thought to rule over unfortunate human beings during the festival.
However, the zoo hopes to debunk the myth by holding an exhibition featuring the not-so-adorable creatures, which runs through July 15 to raise awareness and to protect the animals.
Zoo spokesman Chao Ming-chieh (趙明杰) said that this myth stems from the fact that people back then were more prone to diseases and pestilence during the fifth lunar month, but not through any fault of the animals. Illnesses were more prevalent during this month because of the summer heat and humidity caused by the frequent rains at that time of the year.
The lack of refrigerators, advanced medical care and adequate sanitation facilities in those days also fueled the spread of diseases, for instance through unclean food and rotting garbage, he said.
“These creatures are often wrongly seen as a threat to human beings because of their appearances or habits, but the truth is we don’t have sufficient knowledge about them,” he said.
To familiarize people with the creatures, Chao said nearly 80 species that fit into the venemous category are on display at the zoo’s Amphibian and Reptile House.
Chao said the exhibition features animals such as the brown-spotted pit vipers, emperor scorpions, Asian common toads, Chinese red-headed centipedes and Mexican red-knee tarantulas.
However, when organizing the exhibit, the zoo staff encountered a challenge because — despite the myth — geckos are not venemous, Chao said.
“After some thought, we decided to use spiders as a substitute for the geckos,” he said.