Category Archives: General

Know your venomous snakes! And what to do if one bites you…

Snake season has arrived in Hong Kong, so here’s a brief introduction to some of the main venomous land snakes you might stumble across (not literally, I hope!) whilst out hiking, trail walking or visiting a country park, and what to do if you’re unlucky enough to be bitten by one (also published as a static page here). But first, a quick lesson in terminology!

Poisonous vs Venomous

These two terms are often confused and used interchangeably, but simply put, poisons are secreted (so bad to touch or eat), whilst venoms are mechanically delivered (so via fangs, stingers or spines, etc.). Both poisons and venoms are toxins, which is the umbrella term for all harmful (organic) substances. The difference is in the delivery: poisons are passively ‘delivered’ for defensive purposes; venoms are actively delivered primarily for offensive (but also defensive) purposes.

‘Toxic’ snakes are thus largely venomous, although there are a handful that are also poisonous like the Red-necked Keelback, which has both a venomous rear bite (rarely utilised) as well as poisonous neck secretions acquired through its scrumptious diet of poisonous toads (clearly not poisonous enough in this instance, lol). Cute, non-aggressive snake, though, so have no fear! Especially since the Red-necked Keelback can often be found hanging out on local trails during the day.

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Remember: If you bite it and you die, it’s poisonous. If it bites you and you die, it’s venomous. :p This frog looks rightfully cheesed off, I should add, lol

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Hong Kong’s Venomous Snakes

Here’s a table from Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) showing our most common venomous land snakes. I cropped out the rarer venomous species and non-lethal ones. For the complete listing, with active links to further details on each snake species, see the original table here. See also the external links at the bottom of this page for more comprehensive information and guides on Hong Kong snakes, both venomous and non.

In summary, however, the kraits and cobras are the ones to be the most wary of, as they pack the most lethal bites. The Coral Snake is also lethal but fairly secretive, whilst the Red-necked Keelback is pretty docile and only bad if it gets with you with its rear fangs, which is rare. The Bamboo Pit Viper (pictured at top) is both aggressive and venomous (bad combo!), accounting for most snake bites in Hong Kong, but fortunately it’s not very lethal. Phew!

Also worth noting, of the snakes below, all are strictly or nearly always nocturnal, except for the cobras and Red-necked Keelback. So, if you stick to daytime hikes and walks, it’s only cobras that you really need to watch out for. I say “only cobras” like it’s no big deal, lol, but you catch my drift. Problem is cobras can be easily confused with non-venomous rat snakes, which are also diurnal, so when in doubt, err on the side of caution! Don’t forget, cobras look just like regular snakes when their hoods are down…

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Source: Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD)

Continue reading Know your venomous snakes! And what to do if one bites you…

Snakes galore at Pui O snake talk!

Yesterday afternoon, William Sargent, one of Hong Kong’s leading self-taught ‘snake guys’ (read: catcher, rescuer and all-round snake expert/enthusiast), held an excellent info session at Pui O on the slithery subject, which saw a solid turnout of interested folk. The talk primarily focused on snake identification, venomous species in Hong Kong, and what to do if bitten and by what, in addition to educating people about snakes generally as a way to help remove the fear factor and promote respect for our legless neighbours.

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Event speaker William Sargent, one of Hong Kong’s leading self-taught ‘snake guys’

The session was detailed, informative and participatory, with lots of questions thrown at and asked by the fascinated audience. There were even a dozen or so wild snakes on display that William had specifically caught for the event in the days prior, which was an added bonus. At the end, William handled a Copperhead Rat Snake and an extra feisty Common/Oriental Rat Snake, before inviting several audience members to take on some very cute and gentle Greater Green Snakes (naturally, I was one of the first to volunteer!).

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William displaying a Copperhead Rat Snake (Coelognathus radiatus)
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Woo-hoo, me handling (for quite some time, too) an adorable Greater Green Snake! They are so utterly cute and gentle. I want one, lol

I thoroughly enjoyed the talk and the opportunity to see so many wild species up close, from the non-venomous Copperhead Rat Snake (Coelognathus radiatus), Common/Oriental Rat Snake (Ptyas mucosa) and Greater Green Snake (Cyclophiops major) to the venomous Red-necked Keelback (Rhabdophis subminiatus helleri), Bamboo Pit Viper (Trimeresurus albolabris), Chinese Cobra (Naja atra) and very lethal Many-banded Krait (Bungarus multicinctus multicinctus) 😮 , plus more! Below are some cool snake pics I took at the event.

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Greater Green Snake (Cyclophiops major)
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Red-necked Keelback (Rhabdophis subminiatus helleri)
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Bamboo Pit Viper (Trimeresurus albolabris)
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Chinese Cobra (Naja atra)
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Many-banded Krait (Bungarus multicinctus multicinctus)

Thanks to William Sargent (speaker), Living Islands Movement (organisers) and GardenPlus (venue), plus the slithery stars of the event! See also this recent interview with William and consider joining his Facebook group “Hong Kong Snakes” (it’s a closed group with over 2,500 members at the time of writing) if you have an interest in snakes, snake identification and/or need a snake removed or relocated.

Hong Kong hikers warned as death toll exceeds 2016 total in just four months

The latest casualty was a 60-year-old man who collapsed on Sunday while trekking through Plover Cove

Published: SCMP, 17 Apr 2017
Link to the original article here

An alarming number of hiker deaths in Hong Kong has prompted experts to warn the public to take extra precaution when venturing on the city’s trails.

Five people died in hiking-related incidents on the city’s trails over the first four months of the year, exceeding the total of four deaths in all of 2016, according to the South China Morning Post’s records.

The latest casualty was a 60-year-old man who collapsed on Sunday while trekking through Plover Cove Country Park. He was with a group of eight hikers, who were close to Wu Kau Tang when he complained of feeling dizzy, before losing consciousness.

Dan Van Hoy, a leader with the Hong Kong Hiking group on social networking platform Meet Up, said he was particularly worried when he saw hikers not carrying provisions such as water, food or suncream.

He said he did not want to dissuade people from hiking, but urged beginner hikers to start by attempting easy trails with plenty of shaded areas and water springs before building up to more challenging ones.

“My suggestion would be for people who have not been hiking recently or who are over the age of 50, just to pay a little visit to your doctor – it seems to be prudent to check your health beforehand,” he said.

“In our groups, you always have people who are not experienced in hiking and do not come really prepared. Some people will tell you they ran the Standard Chartered Marathon last year, but I ask them what exercise they have done in the last six to eight weeks. I advise people to start small and build up over a period of weeks.”

Hiking-related accidents and injuries have increased in Hong Kong, as the pastime has become more popular.

Hiker numbers steadily rose from 12.2 million in 2005 to 13.3 million in 2015. Meanwhile, the number of mountain rescues more than doubled from 138 in 2005 to 357 in 2016.

Hikers’ lack of preparation, and a desire to take the best photo for social media, have been blamed for the worrying trend.

Tony Basoglu, another leader for the Hong Kong Hiking Meet Up group, said he was not surprised that hiking accidents were on the rise. He also emphasised that preparation was key to avoiding injury.

“As there are more and more people on the hills, it’s only normal that more accidents and health issues will happen,” he said.

“You always need to carry plenty of water and also drink, drink, drink. You just need to take appropriate precautions and go out and have fun.”

Basoglu said hikers should be particularly mindful to assess their physical limits before attempting difficult trails during hot weather.

“In [the latest] case, it was not an accident – it was an older gentleman and it seems he suffered some kind of health issue,” he said.

“I guess it’s due to heat and exertion, as it was quite hot at the time.

“It could also be that he was not in the greatest of shapes and the stress on his body caused his heart to give out. When we get to that age, we need to be much more careful about exertions.”

Shum Si-ki, who founded the Hiking Meet Up group in 2005, called on the government to start recording the number of hiking-related deaths in country parks to better monitor the situation.

“Particularly on hot days, not many people can cope in these conditions,” he said.

“I think the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department could start monitoring the death toll. Hiking is a major pastime of Hong Kong people and because it is getting more popular, the number of people getting injured it going to go up.”

Should 15,000 steps a day be our new exercise target?

Taking 10,000 steps per day is often suggested as a desirable exercise goal for people who wish to improve their health. But a new study of postal workers in Scotland suggests that that number could be too conservative and that, to best protect our hearts, many of us might want to start moving quite a bit more

Published: New York Times, 22 Mar 2017
Link to the original article here

It has been almost 70 years since the publication of the London Transit Workers Study, a famous work in which researchers tracked the heart health of London bus drivers and conductors. They found that the conductors, who walked up and down bus aisles throughout the workday, were substantially less likely to develop or die from heart disease than the drivers, who sat almost constantly while at work.

This study was one of the first to persuasively show that being physically active could lower someone’s risk for heart disease, while being sedentary had the opposite effect.

Since then, countless large-scale studies have substantiated that finding, and at this point, there is little doubt that moving or not moving during the day will affect the health of your heart.

But precisely how much exercise might be needed in order to avoid heart disease has remained very much in question. The threshold of 10,000 daily steps, incorporated as a goal into many activity monitors today, has not been scientifically validated as a way to lessen disease risk.

So for the new study, which was published this month in The International Journal of Obesity, researchers at the University of Warwick in England and other institutions decided to refer back to but also advance and expand upon the results of that foundational Transit Workers Study by examining another group of employees whose workdays involve mostly walking or sitting. They turned to postal workers in Glasgow, Scotland.

The Glaswegian mail carriers generally cover their routes on foot, not by driving, and spend many hours each day walking, the scientists knew. But the mail service’s office workers, like office workers almost everywhere, remain seated at their desks during the bulk of the workday.

This sharp contrast between the extent to which the workers move or sit during the day could provide new insights into the links between activity and health, the scientists felt.

They began by recruiting 111 of the postal-service workers, both men and women, and most between the ages of 40 and 60. None had a personal history of heart disease, although some had close relatives with the condition.

The researchers measured volunteers’ body mass indexes, waist sizes, blood sugar levels and cholesterol profiles, each of which, if above normal, increases the chances of cardiac disease.

Then they had each volunteer wear a sophisticated activity tracker for a week, while at work and at home and during the weekend.

Afterward, the researchers determined how many waking hours each day the volunteers had spent seated or on foot. They also calculated how many steps each person had taken each day.

The variations turned out to be considerable. Some of the office workers sat for more than 15 hours each day between work and home, while most of the mail carriers barely sat at all during working hours.

Continue reading Should 15,000 steps a day be our new exercise target?

Trail etiquette, a new breed of Hong Kong hikers and useful trekking apps

It’s still early days for our city’s country park visitors to grasp the green concept of bringing home one’s litter

Published: SCMP, 11 Mar 2017
Link to the original article here

The government is facing an uphill battle to encourage hikers to be more environmentally aware and reduce the amount of litter left in country parks, figures show.

In September 2015, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department launched its Take Your Litter Home public education programme in a bid to reduce the number of rubbish bins on trails. About 256 litter bins – almost half of the total number – were removed by the end of 2016.

Despite the initiative, the amount of litter collected from the city’s country parks has not drastically fallen; instead it has remained generally consistent since 2013/14, when 3,700 metric tonnes of rubbish were collected.

Meanwhile pictures of litter-strewn picnic sites regularly show up on social media.

A spokesman for the department said the cleanliness and hygiene of country park trails “had not been compromised” by the waste bin reduction.

“As it takes time for the public to internalise the green concept and get accustomed to the practice of taking away their waste, we will continue with our efforts in raising public awareness,” he said.

Hong Kong Hiking Meetup founder Shum Si-ki said his hikers recently worked with the department on six trails to promote waste reduction.

He said, however, that while the amount of plastic bottles had declined significantly, there was still a problem with discarded tissue paper on the ground.

“There might be a misconception that they are biodegradable,” he said. “But I would like to emphasise that people should take them home too.”

The government also advised hikers to avoid smoking in the parks, as discarded cigarettes can start fires. It also suggested hikers should not feed wild animals as they might be dangerous when approached.

As for basic hiking etiquette, across the world, it is generally accepted that if two groups of hikers meet on a steep trail, then the group travelling uphill has right of way. Hikers are generally advised not to create too much noise with radios or mobile phones.

More Young Hikers

The average age of hikers on Hong Kong’s trails has decreased in the last decade, Shum said.

Growing numbers of hikers in their early 20s are venturing into country parks, whereas in the past most hikers were aged in their 30s to 50s.

“We are finding that a lot of the younger generation are hiking with us in the last three or four years,” Shum said.

“I think the Tourism Board has done a good job of promoting the outdoors. Hiking is less expensive than other activities; you do not need a membership. And in Hong Kong, it is convenient. You can just call up a couple of friends, walk for a couple of hours, then return home.”

App Assistance

  • TrailWatch offers helpful advice and GPS tracking for Hong Kong hikers. Established by local family charity the Wyng Foundation in 2014, it provides maps, distances, timings and points of interest for most of the major trails in Hong Kong. It also allows users to rate their trails, upload pictures of their journeys and make friends online with other hikers, similar to Facebook.
  • Hiking Trail HK offers a similar free service via the Google Play store.
  • Green Hong Kong Green, produced by power company Hong Kong Electric and a non-governmental organisation, contains information and maps for eight trails which feature interesting eco-heritage spots.

How social media and lack of research have increased risks for Hong Kong hikers

Beware of solo hikes and a false sense of GPS-enabled bravado, as well as the need to bag bragging rights for that perfect outdoor picture

Published: SCMP, 11 Mar 2017
Link to the original article here

Hikers in Hong Kong are increasingly dicing with death by ignoring safety advice and embarking on trails despite being ill-prepared, experts warn.

According to statistics, the annual number of mountain rescues by the fire department increased from 138 in 2005 to 357 in 2016 – coinciding also with the growing number of hikers.

Data from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department showed that country park visitors grew from 12.2 million in 2005/6 to 13.3 million in 2015/16. Before that, the increase was even more dramatic – from 2.7 million in 1977, to 8.8 million in 1987, following a push by the government to promote the benefits of hiking.

When approached by the South China Morning Post, both the police and the government said they did not keep records of how many people died or were seriously injured in country parks each year.

But based on previous reports, two hikers died while on a trail in the first two months of this year, and four perished in 2016.

Some courted danger by entering restricted areas, taking photos on cliff edges, or not having adequate amounts of food and water, while others ran into trouble while hiking alone.

On March 12 last year, a man in his 30s fell 400 metres to his death from Lion Rock after reportedly balancing precariously on a cliff edge while trying to take a photograph.

In November last year, a 60-year-old man collapsed and died on part of a steep, unpaved trail to Sharp Peak in Sai Kung, despite signs in the area telling hikers not to proceed.

Shum Si-ki, who founded the Hong Kong Hiking Meetup group in 2005, which now boasts more than 19,000 members, said GPS-enabled mobile phones gave some inexperienced hikers a false sense of confidence that they could “find their own way”.

He said that after Sars hit Hong Kong in 2003, more people turned to hiking to improve their health and get away from the cramped city, but that “increased the number of accidents”.

He also said he had seen young hikers taking bigger risks such as balancing precariously on cliff edges to obtain impressive photographs of their hikes for bragging rights on social media.

“Accidents mainly happen to solo hikers, you must at least pair up,” Shum added. “On our hikes, we always ask people to be careful when taking selfies. We remind people that you either hike or you stop to take photos.”

Hong Kong Hiking Meetup grades its hikes according to difficulty on a scale of one (easy) to five (extremely hard). The group offers about three hikes on weekdays and 12 on weekends.

Shum added that dehydration and the varying weather patterns were other major concerns for novice hikers.

“Especially in the summer, humidity is high and you find people are not prepared,” he said.

Continue reading How social media and lack of research have increased risks for Hong Kong hikers

Spring is here!

Whilst out hiking the other day, I couldn’t help but notice all of the new growth on the hills, from sprouting shoots and ferns to fresh buds and flowers. Everything looked dewy from the light rain earlier in the day, and I even spotted a couple of interesting moths (scroll to the bottom of here), but no snakes or big creepy-crawlies just yet. Only a matter of time before those make a reappearance, so I’d better enjoy things while I can! :p  Here are a few nature pics from my hike. 🙂

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diamond drops

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