蛇,福兮祸兮? / Good Snake, Bad Snake

蛇,福兮祸兮?

“河北——据《京华时报》报道,昨日承德兴隆县数十位村民集中围捕数千条蛇。据称,这些蛇是一群好心人从北京动物市场购买并投放到此处的。投放的蛇种类不详,是否有害也情况不明。”

——2012年6月6日《南华早报》

这种新闻让人想起一句老话:“事实比小说还要离奇。”它也提醒我们报纸需要进一步改进,以便对事件进行完整报道,而不是空留一堆未解之谜让人揣测。

虽然我很想知道报道涉及的数千条蛇到底包括哪些种类,但我更好奇的是这群人买这么多蛇,并带到承德兴隆放归山林的原因。

随之而来的第二个问题是北京有哪家野生动物市场能常备数千条蛇待售,我肯定没去过这样的市场。(这也引发了另外一个问题,难道说中国会出现一个新兴的个性化“送蛇”市场:就跟情人节要送一打玫瑰一样,只不过是送十二条蛇给敌人罢了?)

下次我去北京的时候,可以跳上辆出租车(假如我在首都还能找到一辆这种日渐珍希的交通工具的话),告诉司机我要去“蛇市”。假如司机是“刚来大城市北京打工”的大军中的一员,他也许会承认自己不知道,也许会送我去潘家园或秀水街,反正那儿也有很多“地头蛇”,只不过品种不同而已。

再回到动机的问题,我们只能猜测这群人是在某个“愤青”的带领下,不怕周折、不怕破费,收购了几千条蛇(您想想,不是几百、几十条蛇),然后又颠簸好几个小时,送到北京以北的兴隆县放掉。

一个浅显通俗的问题是,几千条蛇要怎么运啊?肯定得找家货运公司询个价。

想象一下客户致电货运公司:“我要把几千条蛇从北京运到承德,你们给报个价吧。”

货运公司答复说:“稍等,我帮您转接爬虫部……”

“好的,没问题,但是价格可不便宜。需要配特种运输车,司机得有经验,要穿长统靴子,还得上专门的保险。如果是毒蛇,我们还要另加费用。我跟经理商量一下再答复您吧。”

在探究这次大规模放蛇背后的深层次动机时,我的怀疑不由得转向了阴谋论。我认为比较靠谱的是,这次把兴隆县恶搞成人们印象中的“万蛇之县”,其动机一定来源于某种深层的苦恼,应该比忘掉某人生日或结婚纪念日还要沉痛很多倍。

考虑到经常困扰中国农民的那些事儿,此事与房地产开发相关的可能性比较大。

虽然纯属臆断,但我可以想象某人因对房地产开发(如征地)不满,就用“度假别墅下蛇雨” 的办法来威胁开发商。

根据新闻报道,当地出动了几十位村民围捕这几千条蛇。这些村民都不是专业的捕蛇人,也就是说这些蛇肯定有大部分都潜入灌木丛逃之夭夭了。(顺便说一下,捕蛇这个职业确实存在,在爆出这条新闻以后可能还会有大的发展。)

倘或真的如此,兴隆居民和游客们在很长时间内,都会遇到超出正常数量很多的蛇。

但出乎我意料的是,一位消息灵通的同事指出,我对这次蛇祸是源于报复的臆测不仅完全错误,而且毫无根据。

相反,那些买蛇放蛇人的动机相当高尚,与佛教中的“放生”相关。“放生”是指普通人购买被囚禁的动物到野外放掉,以求通过这种有同情心的举动“建业”。我曾经见过有人“放生”鸟类和活鱼,但没想过蛇也能“放生”。

从这个故事中我至少得出了两个道理。

第一,我对日常新闻的解读可以更乐观一点。得知一切出于同情心真让我松了一口气,尽管在这起事件中,受益者看起来更多是蛇而不是村民。

(想想兴隆一位上年纪的村民在评价放生者时说:“嗨,伙计们,下次能放点儿鹌鹑或者野鸡吗?”)

第二,我希望施行“放生”的人能注意不要向野外投放非本地物种,无论是在兴隆还是其他什么地方,因为引入外来的侵害性物种可能会导致灾难性的生态后果。

中国水域已经出现了100多种外来的侵害性鱼类、软体动物和两栖动物,但这不仅是中国的问题,也是全世界的问题。外来侵害性物种会打乱生态平衡,常常导致一些当地物种灭绝。

不过,尽管如此,看到乐善之举总是好的。

Good Snake, Bad Snake

Hebei

Dozens of villagers in Xinglong County, Chengde, were on the hunt yesterday for thousands of snakes that were reportedly released in the area on Friday by a group of people who bought them from a live-animal market in Beijing, the Beijing Times reports. The type of snakes released, including whether any were dangerous, had yet to be determined.”

South China Morning Post, June 6, 2012

News items like this remind us of the old saying: “truth is stranger than fiction.” They are also a reminder that newspapers need to do a better job of reporting the whole story instead of leaving more questions unanswered than answered.

Although it would be somewhat interesting to know what type of snakes were among the thousands reportedly released, even more interesting to me would be to know why this group of people would have bought thousands of snakes and brought them to this county in Chengde.

Then there is the secondary question of which live-animal market in Beijing routinely has thousands of snakes available for sale. It is definitely not one of the markets I have visited. (This also raises the question of whether there is potentially an emerging market for personalized snake delivery in China: just like sending a dozen roses for Valentine’s Day; except in this case it might be twelve snakes for your enemy.)

Next time I’m in Beijing I may jump in a taxi (if I can find one of these increasingly endangered species in the nation’s capital) and announce my destination as the “snake market.” If he’s one of the growing numbers of “recently arrived in downtown Beijing” drivers, he may admit he doesn’t know where it is; or he may take me to Panjiayuan or the Silk Market, which also have their share of snakes, albeit of a different sort.

Returning to the question of motive, we can only speculate why a group of people, presumably lead by some disgruntled individual, would go to the trouble and expense of acquiring thousands (not hundreds, or dozens, mind you) of snakes, and then transporting them several hours north of Beijing to be released in Xinglong County.

Simple, mundane questions come to mind, like how would you transport thousands of snakes? You could of course call a trucking company and ask for a price quote.

Customer to trucking company: “I need a quote on transporting thousands of snakes from Beijing to Chengde.”

Trucking company: “Hold on. Let me connect you to the Reptile Department ….”

“Yeah. OK. That’s gonna be very expensive. Special snake truck, qualified driver wearing tall boots, special insurance; and poisonous snakes carry a surcharge. I’ll call you back after I talk with my manager.”

As I pondered the possible motives behind the massive snake release program, my speculation turned to the nefarious side. It seemed logical to me that the plot to etch Xinglong County into peoples’ minds as “the county of ten thousand snakes” must have stemmed from some fairly deep unhappiness. Much deeper than the sort we’d normally associate with just forgetting someone’s birthday or wedding anniversary, for example.

Given the type of issues which frequently agitate people in the Chinese countryside, it seemed there was a good chance that the unhappiness in this case stemmed from something to do with real estate.

Although pure speculation, I imagined a scenario where a real estate developer was threatened with “snakes falling like raindrops on your new holiday villa development” by someone unhappy about that development for some reason (such as a land grab).

The news report said that dozens of villagers were deployed to catch thousands of snakes. Presumably none of the villagers were professional snake-catchers (a niche profession which does exist, by the way, and may well be a growth industry based on this news report), which means that most of the thousands of wriggly ones escaped into the underbrush.

If this is the case, Xinglong County residents and visitors may be seeing more than their fair share of snakes for a long time to come.

To my surprise, however, it turns out that my speculation about revenge as a motive behind this snake caper was completely wrong and ill-founded, as a well-informed colleague of mine who researched the matter pointed out.

On the contrary, the motives of those who bought and released the snakes were of a lofty spiritual sort, associated with the Buddhist tradition of “fang sheng,” in which ordinary people buy captive animals and release them in the wild for the good karma associated with such compassionate acts. I have seen people release caged birds and live fish before, as part of this custom, but had not previously associated snakes with the practice.

There are at least two morals I derived from this story.

First, I should be more open to the optimistic interpretation of everyday news items. It’s reassuring to know that compassion is still alive and well, although in this case it seems to benefit the snakes more than the villagers.

(Imagine a village elder in Xinglong commenting to the snake releasers: “Hey Guys, next time, could you try releasing quail or pheasants?”)

Second, I hope the practitioners of “fang sheng” are very careful not to release non-native species into the countryside, whether in Xinglong County or elsewhere, because the ecological results of introducing invasive species can be disastrous.

This is not only a problem in China, which already has more than 100 invasive species of fish, mollusks, and amphibians in its waterways, but globally. Invasive species can and often do upset the ecological balance and wipe out local varieties.

But still, it’s always good to see compassion in action.


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