Teen “snake charmer” Saifudeen Muhammad is on a mission to save the reptiles from potential harm and teach people the good about them.
Muhammad, 14, said snakes would not attack people unless provoked.
He plans to do herpetology, the study of reptiles and amphibians, and has given himself a head start by volunteering with the El Socorro Centre for Wildlife Conservation.
He has helped with the rescue and removal of wildlife when trouble calls come in to the centre and says the experience has taught him how to handle snakes, to the point where he has a few snakes at his Endeavour, Chaguanas home.
The Presentation College, Chaguanas student told Sunday Newsday why he loves animals and wants to change people’s views of snakes, and his plans for protecting TT’s biodiversity.
“Since I was small, I have been fascinated by animals. When I saw the rate at which animal species were declining around the world, I wanted to do something.”
He realised the first instinct of many people was to kill snakes out of fear.
“They don’t have a voice to speak for themselves. So I took it upon myself to be their voice and help them.
“We need snakes because without them, there will be an infestation of rodents, and that brings a lot of diseases,” he explained.
“I think people would rather have harmless snakes than a bunch of harmful rodents around their houses.”
So he advises people who come into contact with snakes to contact the zoo to remove the reptiles.
Muhammed has been working with the centre since 2018. and shared some of his experiences.
“If someone calls me to rescue an animal, I will go remove the animal and then release it in a safe location away from humans.”
In November, his bravery and skills attracted public attention after a video of him removing a snake from his school began circulating on Facebook.
“At school, someone called me quietly and asked I have a contact for the zoo.
“They said it had a big macajuel snake, and I told them to let me see it.
“I checked it out, wrangled it for a little bit, grabbed it behind its head, and put it into a sack. The zoo came to take it.”
His school gave him an Outstanding Act of Bravery award.
Muhammad admits he does make the occasional mistake.
“I do get bitten by snakes sometimes, but the bites really don’t hurt that much.
“The first time I was bitten, I was scared, but after a while the pain went away. I realised I wasn’t that scared.”
His parents, Anees and Sana Muhammad, while cautious about his handling of snakes, are supportive.
His father said, “Based on his interactions and experience so far, I am comfortable now. I still caution him to be alert and safeguard himself but I fully encourage him.”
Anees said he has also benefited from his son’s knowledge.
“He always reminds me that snakes will not bite you; it’s just how you interact with them. I am not one of the people who say they are afraid of snakes.”
His parents have constructed a room in the backyard where his pets are kept.
The variety of snakes in his collection includes cat-eyed, horsewhip and ratonel snakes, which he feeds frogs and lizards. He also had a water mapepire that ate fish.
“He doesn’t keep snakes for long periods as he usually keep them for observation.
“If he finds an injured snake, he will nurse it back to health and release it,” said Anees.
His love for animals is varied, as he has also handled birds, lizards and manicou, and breeds a variety of fish.
It is no surprise that his favourite subject is biology.
“I know most of the scientific names for all the animals in TT.”
Apart from wanting to be a herpetologist, Muhammad also wants to help citizens understand and protect their biodiversity. One day he hopes to open a wildlife centre that specialises in amphibians and reptiles.
“I want to base my work in TT because there is so much biodiversity here and a lot more species that needs to be discovered.”
He recently found a rare High Woods coral snake on a trip to Knollys’ Tunnel in Central Trinidad, which he took as a sign of things to come.
Though his focus is on TT, Muhammad is looking forward to discovering other countries, with Costa Rica being on top of the list.
“They have a lot of really cool species of snakes. I plan to go there in the future.”
He wants people to work together to protect all animals, especially in the face of environmental threats such as climate change.
“Species are going extinct really fast.”