Sompop Sridaranop, 57, has recently been all over the media for catching wild snakes, scores of which took refuge in people’s homes when the floods arrived. His kidneys are shot, he’s been bitten too many times to count, he does it all for free. And he has no intention of retiring.
- By Monruedee Jansuttipan
- | Nov 25, 2011
BK: What inspired you to be a volunteer?
Years ago, a senior in my community on Soi Charoennakorn 25 got a chance to appear in front of HM Queen Sirikit to receive an honor, because he had donated blood so many times. That really inspired me to donate blood, so I could appear in front of the queen. My dream came true when I was 19. I was full of joy. I took her speech to be my motto: “Be a little bit less selfish, sacrifice for your society a little more, then we will live happily together.” I have been volunteering since then. It’s been nearly 40 years now.
BK: How did you learn to catch snakes?
I just observed others and started catching snakes myself. I taught myself about snake species and their life cycles, so I would know right away what snake it is and how to handle it.
BK: What’s the most difficult type of snake to handle?
The Burmese python. It’s big and fierce. It can bite and choke you to death. But most snakes don’t attack you if you don’t disturb them. So the best thing to do is to just stay away and monitor from afar if the snake is gone or not. For me, snakes aren’t the most dangerous creatures. It’s actually the paper wasp—it’s fierce, can attack without warning and the poison from a single wasp can kill you.
BK: Have you ever made a mistake?
Many times. The most recent was while catching a Burmese python; it was really the case of a lifetime. I tried to catch it while it was on a tree, which was really dangerous. I was bitten so many times. I got more than 200 puncture wounds from its fangs.
BK: How can people contact you?
My phone number is 089-043-8445. Anyone is free to call. When people find snakes, they call the police and the police call me. Even the Flood Relief Operation Center (FROC) gave my number to people in flooded areas, but I can’t always go. They just throw jobs at me without any support team. I don’t have a boat and a team so I can’t go everywhere.
BK: How much do you earn?
I don’t ask any money from people that I help. It depends on their generosity towards me. If it’s too far to go on my motorcycle, I ask them to pay for my travel expenses.
BK: What do you do with the snakes that you catch?
I keep them at my house before I find the right place to give them away. If it’s poinsonous, I’ll give it to Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute, where they make serums from poisons. For non-lethal snakes, I just find a place to let them go.
BK: What are you doing now?
I am a caretaker at the Marine Department in Bangkok. I have been a civil servant for 28 years. Normally, I wake up in the morning and water my plants before driving my motorcycle to the office at Sipraya Road. I open up the building and take care of everything before everybody comes. I didn’t graduate from high school. I only studied till the fourth grade.
BK: Is it hard to catch snakes at your age?
As for my actual catching skills, I have no problems. But I have health problems and kidney failure. I can’t get into the water because there’s a hole in my chest for blood transfusion pipes. I just realized I had renal problems last year, when I had terrible pains in my stomach. The doctor found that one of my kidneys was totally gone, and the other was only working at 80% because of a blood clot. I am lucky that I am a civil servant and my social security covers all medical expenses. I have to have a blood transfusion every week.
BK: Why do you still continue to catch snakes?
It’s my happiness. I don’t drink, don’t gamble. My happiness is helping people. It makes me sleep well at night. I also gather people to donate blood—at least 1,000 bottles a year. That gives me the most happiness.