AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
To Thailand, where the Bangkok fire department is busy in the summer, not with fires but snakes - last year, the department got more than 37,000 snake incursion calls. And this year, it might be more. Michael Sullivan reports.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Thai).
MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: At the Bang Khen fire station near the airport, firefighters sit in the ready room, listening to the radio chatter, waiting for a call. It's still the tail end of the rainy season and that means...
PINYO PUKPINYO: (Through interpreter) Fewer fires, more snakes - and the snakes never stop.
SULLIVAN: That's the city's chief snake wrangler, 50-year-old Pinyo Pukpinyo. How many fires? - maybe four or five per day. How many snakes? - sometimes, 200 a day, according to Pinyo.
PINYO: (Through interpreter) Seventy percent are python and then cobras, pit vipers and banded kraits. The banded krait is the most venomous we find in Bangkok.
SULLIVAN: Pinyo has been with the fire department for 30 years, the last 15 specializing in snake removal. I ask how many he's caught since the department started answering snake incursion calls in 2003.
PINYO: (Through interpreter) About 8,000 in the past 16 years - sometimes as many as 10 or 20 a day.
SULLIVAN: And yes, they have been known to wiggle their way up through the toilet, even if it's occupied. Pinyo says he's been bitten over 20 times. Each time, he says, he learns something new about not getting bit again and proves it in a demonstration behind the station.
(SOUNDBITE OF SNAKE HISSING)
SULLIVAN: There he shows off a 4-foot-long monocled cobra, taken from a nearby home the night before. He holds the snake just below its neck...
(SOUNDBITE OF SNAKE HISSING)
SULLIVAN: ...And lifts its head right in front of his face. He blames Bangkok's never-ending development for the number of snake incursions that's been increasing every year.
PINYO: (Through interpreter) People cross the line when they build in the snake's habitat. We think because we're human, we're always right and that the snake is the intruder, not us.
SULLIVAN: In a dark room, behind the station's fire trucks, Pinyo's stashed dozens of pythons, cobras and pit vipers in cages or plastic containers.
PINYO: (Through interpreter) We keep these guys here for instruction to teach others their habits and how to catch them.
SULLIVAN: The snakes are kept here no more than two weeks, he says, then released by the park department in a forest far from the city.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Foreign language spoken).
SULLIVAN: On the day I visit, Pinyo is way below his usual haul. We're in his truck now. The first call turned out to be a bust, but Pinyo gets another about a python in the rafters of a house 10 minutes away.
WIYADA WACHIRAPAKPORN: (Foreign language spoken).
SULLIVAN: He's been here many times because the woman who lives here keeps chickens, and the chicken feed attracts mice and rats. Pinyo says he once caught a python here more than 15 feet long. Today's intruder is just a baby. That's still big enough to scare 50-year-old Wiyada Wachirapakporn.
WACHIRAPAKPORN: (Through interpreter) Very much - they look very scary to me. And I'm afraid it's going to bite me, so I'm very happy when Pinyo comes.
SULLIVAN: Pinyo laughs and tucks the baby python into a bag. He predicts he'll be back here within a week.
PINYO: (Through interpreter) With accidents or fires, it's very sad when you see people lose people they love or their property. But when I catch a snake, I'm happy.
SULLIVAN: Happy, he says, because he can make people who are desperate or insecure feel safe in their own homes.
For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Bangkok.
(SOUNDBITE OF NEON INDIAN'S "SLUMLORD'S RELEASE")
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