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Railroad tracks near Hasselt plagued by invasive snakes

Photo from VILT

A stretch of train tracks in Flanders has been overrun by a type of snake called the Chinese beauty snake, after the animals are believed to have escaped from a pet store in the area.

The Chinese beauty snake is a subspecies of the beauty rat snake, and at least a hundred sightings of them have been reported by the tracks near Hasselt in the province of Limburg since as far back as 2006.

Twenty-one of the snakes have already been caught this year.

Belgium only has three species of snakes that are native to the country, and while the escaped snakes pose no danger to public health, the government has begun trapping them.

“It is a non-native species and we are not sure what the effects will be on the ecosystem,” explained Loïc van Doorn of the Institute for Nature and Forest Research (INBO) who recently started catching the animals.

“They feed on rats, mice and birds, among other things.”

The snakes are native to China, and the fact that reports of young ones have come in over the years leads authorities to believe the animals are reproducing.

The number of reports regarding sightings of the snake have also increased significantly in recent years, according to the Flemish information centre for agriculture and horticulture (VILT).

Van Doorn said that the snakes are shy, and can grow to be two metres long.

Infrabel, which is responsible for maintaining the Belgian railway infrastructure, says that the snakes aren’t seen as a threat to train personnel.

“Our people have seen the animal before during work, but it usually flees quickly,” said spokesperson Thomas Baeken.

“It is a quiet animal and is also human-shy. So the snake is not likely to attack.”

The snakes lurk in cable trenches or along the railroad bed, VILT says.

Van Doorn explains that this is because railroad tracks and track stones retain heat, which the exotic snakes like, which makes railroads in general a popular breeding ground for reptiles in Belgium.

Trapping the snakes is done with rubber mats, which are placed next to the railroad and warmed up by the sun in order to lure the snakes.

Once captured, they’re transported to a snake refuge in West Flanders where they’re sterilised to prevent them from continuing to breed.

According to VILT, because the exotic species is not on the list of animals that can be kept in Belgium without a permit, the refuge is trying to find a home for them in the Netherlands.

Infrabel advises residents who come across any of the snakes to contact the Opglabbeek Nature Centre, whose experts can almost always arrive immediately and have the infrastructure to temporarily accommodate the snakes.

That centre is open seven days a week between 9:00 AM and 10:00 PM, and people do not have to call in advance before bringing in an animal.

Snake-spotters can also call the fire department.