Animal protection groups have criticized an event at a recently opened exhibition at the Taipei City Zoo.
The zoo launched a snake exhibition to celebrate the coming Year of the Snake, inviting visitors to learn more about a creature that many people fear.
However, the Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan (EAST) said the exhibit’s snake-petting constituted animal abuse.
On the opening day of the exhibition on Saturday, a snake-petting event was held in which visitors could line up to touch the skin of a ball python held by a zoo staff member.
The event aimed to let visitors feel the snake’s scales and temperature and get them better acquainted with the reptile.
Several children expressed excitement or surprise, and said they liked the smooth texture of the snake’s skin.
Some parents said the event was a good way for their children to approach and learn about a reptile that they used to fear.
However, EAST said the event constituted animal abuse, saying that so much human contact could startle or frighten the snake.
The snake could become stressed by the continuous human contact, the group said, adding that because it was held by the zoo staff member, the snake was unable to move freely.
In response, Taipei Zoo secretary Chang Chih-hua (張志華) said that precisely because the snake was held in the worker’s hands, he could tell whether it was frightened.
He said that the event only lasted for 30 minutes, and that the snake was a relatively calm ball python that had lived in the zoo for 10 years.
A researcher at the zoo said that although the many snakes species in Taiwan play an important role in the environment, many people still see them as harmful and poisonous reptiles.
The event was held to change the public’s perception of snakes, the researcher said.
The zoo said there are 62 species of snake in Taiwan, 17 of which are currently listed as conservation species and several as endangered species due to habitat destruction, capturing, killing and an increase in invasive species.
EAST said the zoo could have used other ways to show visitors the texture of the snake skin, and that it would have been more appropriate to teach them not to touch any wild animal so that they would not mistakenly pet a poisonous snake in the wilderness.