One hot night, reptile researcher Hans-J Βrg Wiedl – or SnakeGeorge – enters a bar in the town of Chrysochous in Paphos to quench his thirst with iced beer. He is tired of all day searching and watching snakes. In lakes, trees, rocks and ruins of old houses. In fact, he received a call to remove a snake from private property. He then had to carry it and release it to a safe area, first checking its reflexes with the long snake hook.
As soon as he sees him presenting himself in his typical khaki suit, the owner, who is his friend, welcomes him enthusiastically behind the bar and after a cordial handshake offers him a beer. As he raises his head to take his first sip, SnakeGeorge's eye is fixed annoyed on the drinks rack, where he recognizes a serious change. It is a series of bottles, in each of which a dead snake is immersed in alcohol, according to the local custom of the evil eye. She asks him thoughtfully “what is this?”. He wonders and answers “isn't it nice?”. She also asks him if he killed them too, to hear a “four only!” as an apology. “Only four?” Says SnakeGeorge. “You killed four snakes and I'm your friend?”
The Adventurous Life of SnakeGeorge (Part A)
This scene has been watched on television by thousands of people worldwide, as it is part of a documentary by the Paris-based production company “Marathon Productions”, which in 1994 collaborated with SnakeGeorge in Cyprus and arranged for the film to be distributed in many countries, so that to inform the world about the problems faced by the snakes of Cyprus and about the daily and lonely fight of SnakeGeorge for their salvation.
In 1992 he managed to locate and identify the Cypriot water snake – Natrix natrix cypriaca, when everything showed that it had disappeared for more than forty years. He also convinced the authorities that fishing in Lake Xyliatou should be banned in order to ensure its protection.
Since he settled on the island in 1986, with the purpose of his life, as we saw in the previous part of the tribute, to study and rescue Cypriot reptiles, SnakeGeorge's work has also been screened in Cypriot, Austrian, French and German documentaries. The first and only friend of the snakes of Cyprus for decades had to constantly look for ways to gradually raise the awareness of Cypriots about the protection of snakes at a time when the EU “punch rod” was not yet hovering. in others, it was the creation of snake parks. “I knew that in order to fight the Cypriots' fear of snakes, I had to inform them and bring them closer to them. The beginning was with a reptile exhibition that I kept in the community of Skoullis in Paphos, during the first five years of the '90s, but the culmination of my training project was the reptile park in Pegeia (Snake George's Reptile Park) in the period 1996-2010 ” , states in “P”. There he hosted all the reptiles of Cyprus in large and comfortable spaces and in their natural environment. The success of the project in the park was the reproduction of snakes, something that soon led to a significant achievement by him, the discovery for the first time in history, since 1758 when the Cypriot viper (fine) was recognized and identified by Charles Linnaeus, that lays eggs and not live. We might not know this today if the park did not exist. Most of those fine eggs hatched in the park after 30-35 days and then TV channels and journalists went to record this important event.
The reptile park in Pegeia (Snake George's Reptile Park) operated in the period 1996-2010 “and hosted all the reptiles of Cyprus in large and comfortable spaces, in their natural environment. The success of the project was the reproduction of snakes. It also attracted the interest of foreign universities and international researchers.
He discovered for the first time in history, since 1758 when the Cypriot viper (fine) was recognized and identified by Charles Linnaeus, that this snake lays eggs and not alive. Photo from Pegeia reptile park.
Through the daily observation of reptiles, other great reptilian discoveries were made by SnakeGeorge, which had to do with their behavior and habits. “Most people do not understand what I have been doing for so many years. “The most important thing for me has always been the observation of reptiles”, he emphasizes. “In the park I also managed to reproduce the Cypriot water snake Natrix natrix cypriaca, which even today is close to extinction. The project attracted the interest of universities abroad, which sent students to me for internships. Great reptiles from abroad also came, with several of whom we wrote research, many journalists from European countries and tourists. But also many locals, such as schools with students “. Through their meetings with SnakeGeorge, thousands of visitors each year, young and old, studied in detail the snakes: their body structure, their skin, their eyes and their habits. They even touched them to feel that snakes are really peaceful animals.
Visit of students enjoying with SnakeGeorge the company of the black snake (warm).
Snakes were saved
It is worth mentioning that many snakes were saved because of the park, since, according to SnakeGeorge, those who did not kill them brought them there. As he assures, many reptiles were more protected in the park than outside and close to humans. There he also took care of what he rescued and saw that they were injured, for example due to being trapped in nets. After their recovery, he released them into nature. It should be noted that no snake stayed in the park long enough, it was always released into the wild after some time. Besides, although he had accepted proposals to host many foreign species of snakes there, he was categorically negative, because his ultimate goal has always been to preserve and protect the Cypriot reptile fauna. Pegeia Park has inspired many current snake lovers in Cyprus, while spreading prejudices about them. It stopped operating in 2010, because the lease of the land expired and the landlord needed it.
The park to foreign travel guides for Cyprus.
Natrix natrix cypriaca
In the following years Hans-J Βrg Wiedl could not secure another land for a reptile park. At the same time we find him in newspapers making statements of despair over the government's reluctance to support his work to save the Cypriot endemic snake Natrix natrix cypriaca. It is worth noting here that this subspecies had managed to locate and re-identify it in 1992, when everything indicated that it had disappeared for more than forty years. First in Lake Xyliatou and later in Lake Paralimni. In fact, he ran and knocked on many doors of government offices, in order to finally ban fishing in Lake Xyliatou, after he had found out that the fishermen used to kill this rare snake, because they did not want to deprive them of the fish it feeds on. He continued for the next decades to monitor the populations of this snake, going at his own expense, as always, to the two lakes. In a 2011 report, we read his statements, after he met once again the then Minister of Agriculture and Environment, even submitting a report with 1,200 signatures that he collected, with a request – in vain as the continuation showed – for the government to introduce a controlled reproduction and prevention program. of the extinction of the snake. “I hope that the government will decide soon on the fate of the Cypriot water snake. “Cypriots should be proud to have this beautiful endemic snake!” He said at the time.
Drawing by the world's leading herpetology designer, Tell Hicks, which presents all the colors and mutations of the Cypriot water snake Natrix natrix cypriaca. He prepared it when he came to visit the reptile park of Pegeia.
“Cypriots should be proud to have this beautiful endemic snake!” has said about the rare Cypriot water snake.
Austria did not forget him
His birthplace Austria, which as we mentioned in the first part of the tribute honored him through its President in 1998 for his services, in relation to the reptiles of Cyprus, with the Austrian Honorary Cross for Science and Arts, could not do not hire a researcher in your class for your own benefit. So he hired him in the period 2011-2013 to record all the species of reptiles and amphibians in the country. The Austrian government conducts these studies every 30 years. SnakeGeorge also kept in touch for years with the Austrian mission of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, which occasionally called on him to train soldiers on snake control.
Training UNFICYP soldiers on snake control issues.
In the classroom.
Discovering the ninth snake of Cyprus
When asked how he manages to spot snakes, SnakeGeorge replies with a smile: “Usually they look for me.” Recently, after about 35 years of experience in the study of Cypriot reptiles, he saw himself reaching another achievement, which is the discovery of the ninth snake of Cyprus, Rhynchocalamus melanocephalus. The first snake was discovered in 2013, followed by a second specimen found in 2017. Five years after the first discovery, SnakeGeorge spotted a new specimen in 2018. All specimens were young individuals with the third being the smallest in size, leading him to conclude that they can reproduce. He explains that he then had to make sure the species was genetically identified. Thus, he collaborated with a well-known scientific team of the Department of Zoology at the University of Israel, who, among other things, performed DNA analysis on the samples found in Cyprus.
The “black-headed snake” is the new snake of Cyprus that was recently discovered by Hans-J Βrg Wiedl and has been genetically identified.
Secretive and shy
As it informs us, the non-venomous snake, whose small size reaches up to about 40-45 cm in length, belongs to the Colubridae family, like the common warm (black snake). The distribution of the species is found in most of the neighboring countries of Cyprus that have similarities in its climate and habitat. In the eastern zone it is commonly known as the black-headed snake, due to the characteristic color of its head. In terms of its behavior, it has been characterized as secretive and shy, it feeds mainly on larvae and small insects, while it lives in inaccessible stony areas. The discovery of the ninth snake of Cyprus and its identification methodology were officially published in the scientific journal “Zoology in the Middle East”. This discovery, SnakeGeorge points out, proves once again how rich our island is in biodiversity, despite its size. He is confident that more snakes of the species will be found later, stressing that further research is undoubtedly needed for its population.
He has written many articles on reptiles and amphibians. He is also the author of “The Snakes of Cyprus” which has been translated into four languages and co-author of “The Amphibians and Reptiles of Cyprus”.
Optimistic about the future
He is optimistic about the future, because together with Daniel and Andreas Kouridis they have created the “Cyprus Reptile Team”, which is a non-profit organization and offers snake rescue services, responding daily to the call of citizens. He believes that Cyprus needs more teams like this, at least one in each city. He also feels very happy, because he managed to pass on his vast knowledge to the young Andreas Kouridis. He continues to receive calls and emails almost daily from people who see a snake and need help. “I try to understand the situation, keep them calm and give my best advice. Many of them use my books as a reference, which guide them and can calculate what kind of snake they see. “Whenever it is necessary, I or a member of the Cyprus Reptile Team go for rescue”, he emphasizes. He also continues to visit schools for snake training, and scientists regularly contact him to help them. Recently, a foreign researcher asked him to help him study snake venom for medical purposes.
It continues to help researchers from around the world. He recently contributed to the study of the venom of the Cypriot viper (fine) for medical purposes.
“I am very pleased that many Cypriots and foreigners recognize and appreciate my work so far for the protection of reptile fauna. I have received so many nice comments from people that will be etched in my memory forever and I thank each and every one of them individually. “I am also grateful to see that more and more people are pursuing the field of study and protection of the Cypriot reptile fauna,” says SnakeGeorge.
When releasing a snake from nets.