Karuni Rompies, Jakarta – Hundreds of people living in a housing complex 35 kilometres to the south of the Indonesian capital have been forced to learn safe snake-handling techniques to cope with an unprecedented reptile invasion.
Since late November, dozens of snakes – mostly cobras whose scientific name is Naja sputatrix – have been found in Jakarta, Bali, Bogor and Purwakarta in West Java, Gunung Kidul in Yogyakarta, several places in East Java and up in South Sulawesi province. Most are baby or young snakes.
They have turned up in gardens, terraces, toilets, kitchens, drain pipes and bedrooms.
"I have been living here for eight years and we never found as many snakes as this time. There were usually up to five snakes found within one whole year in our area," Royal Citayam resident Hari Cahyo said of the 36 animals found in the Royal Citayam Residence complex.
On December 15, 30 cobra shells were found in a residential area in Bekasi on the outskirts of Jakarta, while four men died in a village in South Sulawesi after being bitten by a cobra.
At least two snakes were found in the parking lot of the country's anti-corruption agency or KPK in Jakarta.
Aji Rachmat, a snake lover and founder of a non-government organisation that deals with snake issues, said their open fields and swampy habitat was disappearing in the conversion to residential and commercial developments, pushing the animals closer to humans.
Herpetologist Amir Hamidy of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences said each cobra laid some 20 eggs – twice as many as the Malayan krait, also a common snake in Indonesia – and the rainy season was not only was time for hatching but also rain helped flush the eggs out of their nests.
Aji has been teaching people to catch the animals effectively in their houses before they call the authorities to take them away.
"We told to arm themselves with a broom, a dustpan and a basket with a lid. Push the snake against the wall at its body and by using dustpan put it into the bucket and quickly close the bucket. Then immediately call us or the firefighters to take it out. If the snake is inside the bedroom, close the door, all windows and call us," he said.
He also gives tips on how to differentiate between poisonous and non-poisonous snakes since their handling is different.
"We have been fully booked since early November until January 20 for on-location courses on handling snakes for people in residential areas and in offices," he said. His organisation was contracted by KPK to spend Christmas week searching all floors of both of its buildings.
Firefighter Diki Mutakin of Bogor said his office had received so many snake call-outs in the past few weeks his "wife and children teased me 'are you firefighter or snake charmer?'".