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Stretching out more than 3 meters, a king cobra uncoils during a walk with snake man Slamet Junaedi.
This 44-year-old Purworejo resident takes his cold-blooded mates, Dian the cobra and a 60-kilogram, 4-meter long flower-skin python named Susi, for some exercise in this Central Java town’s alun alun (town square) and a bit of sun regularly, just as others walk their dogs. However, in this case the cobra’s tails act as the leash.
Milling around this weekly snake stroll are children just on the cusp of walking, motorcyclists sweating in helmet and jackets too absorbed to disrobe and young mothers with their shopping bags, all standing in awe of the unlikely friendship between Slamet and his snakes, a friendship that extends to king
“I’ve been catching snakes for many years. When I was a kid there was an old lady named Mbah Wongso who traded snake meat, skin and snake oil for health remedies. I saw when they skinned the snakes that most of them were pythons, non-poisonous snakes, and I thought when I grow up, if I want to be a snake catcher, my challenge will be to catch poisonous snakes,” says Slamet, Susi the python at his feet, warming herself under the bright midday sun.
The relationship between this middle-aged man and his king cobra is surprisingly tender, Dian’s hood extended in warning before she calms completely and shares a kiss with Slamet, as onlookers watch with equal parts fear and fascination.
Susi was caught in the wilds of Gunung Kidul and came first in his snake collection says, Slamet of the lazy, fat python captured when she was barely a meter long.
Dian, on the other hand, has been with Slamet for just a few months, after being caught in the teak forest of Alas Roban.
“I think she must be about five years old,” says Slamet of his cobra, which, he adds, seems to have settled well into urban life, and is growing glossy on a diet of small snakes freshly caught by Slamet.
“I am interested in all kinds of poisonous snakes, particularly the king cobra, because not many people seem to want to understand them and are afraid of these snakes,” says Slamet who performs publicly with his snakes in the hopes of making people more aware of their beauty, rather than only their danger.
His 8-year-old daughter, Meiliana, is learning to handle these animals from her father and is already comfortable with handling an armload of green tree snakes, Susi the python, and small cobras.
During the king cobra’s weekly outing to the local park, Slamet helps her rise on her muscular tail, she towers over the snake handler, poised to strike, however Slamet is not afraid.
“I have been bitten 16 times by ordinary cobras and sprayed by cobra poison seven times. I was once bitten by a king cobra like Dian and I thought ‘this is the end’. I was very close to dying, but after two days in the hospital, I was OK,” says Slamet, who respects the power and speed of his snakes, never taking his eyes off Dian during her exercise sessions while also stroking her into a relaxed state.
Slamet stresses that while he has had a lifelong passion for snakes, these animals are dangerous and should be left alone by inexperienced people.