Thursday, February 21, 2013

Snake-Focused Philippine Tourism, Why Not?

Isinay Bird with a newly skinned cobra. (Jan 5, 2013 photo by Bonifacio Calacala)

I'M NOT REALLY a snake fanatic, but after posting that blog on my first encounter with snake soup in Isinay land, it dawned on me that snakes and their meat, blood, skin, bile, and – take this: maybe even their so-called "medicinal" bites – have extremely bright potentials for making tourism in the Philippines not only more fun but also unforgettable.
My point is simply this: Instead of (1) nurturing the fear of snakes among our fellow Pinoys and (2) poking fun on those stone-gizzarded few who have learned to love snake meat, why not think outside the box and for once consider the potentials of snakes to make life in the Philippines more fun if not wonderful?
After all, it is the Year of the Snake and it would probably do no harm if for a few moments we forget our ophidiophobia (fear of snakes) and take a long, hard look at the tourism and other development potentials of this reptile.
Snakes can attract not only the thrill- and adventure-seeking travelers (be they foreign or local) but also well-meaning small-scale entrepreneurs (including snake-growers, snake-catchers, cooks and restaurateurs) that should also be encouraged to actively join the move to make the Philippines a truly exciting tourist destination.
There’s no discounting the distributive – let alone the multiplier – effect of snake-based tourism on willing families in search of livelihood in the countryside. 
I remember seeing at the turn of the millennium, for instance, a yard packed with beautifully caged snakes behind the town hall in Alegria, Surigao del Norte. The snakes were of the dahong-palay (green pit viper) kind and were used by the owner as "medical assistants" to cure the sick.
That snake-using "clinic" attracted quite a number of visitors then, including us Community-Based Resource Management consultants on the lookout at the time for forest-focused livelihood opportunities to espouse. The town's Mayor then, Dr. Jesse Aguilera, told us that even if some locals were skeptical of the curative powers of snake bites, the "clinic" served as a magnet for people even outside Caraga Region to visit her tiny municipality.
As I implied in my blog immediately before this, snake meat is not only non-poisonous but delicious.
It’s not yet common in the Philippines, perhaps. But in China, Thailand, or elsewhere, serving snake meat (including blood and skin) for food is now a thriving business, especially catering to the more adventurous tourists.
I recently saw on TV that over there the repertoire of the specialty restaurants offering the “reality challenge” includes choosing the snake of your fantasy from a glass cage full of them slithering creatures – usually the dreaded species called cobra.
In front of the wide-eyed tourists, the cook would slit the throat of the reptile, catch its spurting blood on a glass, then offer the still warm scarlet liquid to the gutsy visitors. Then, while feeling how their veins and innards react to the so-called medicinal drink, the tourists watch how the snake is skinned and butchered, then flamboyantly spiced and sauteed,  and finally offered on the diner’s table.
Considering the availability of snakes in many rural areas of the Philippines, I assure you this reptilian delight enjoyed in our neighboring countries could easily be availed of very soon in Pinoy land. That is, if some entrepreneurs would venture into snake farming
Now, if only my friends at the DENR, particularly those in the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau, could only relax their biodiversity-protection concerns a little bit – and allow the business of raising snakes for food and for tourism -- I'm sure many more corners in the Philippines would become better places to live in.

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