Teachers rescue & release snake in Commonwealth Secondary School that was being beaten by cleaner

It wasss sssaved.

Tharun Suresh | May 15, 2024, 02:34 PM



A golden tree snake was found outside the second-floor staff toilet at Commonwealth Secondary School on Apr. 29, 2024, at about 1:20pm.

The snake was spotted by a cleaner who then, out of fear, proceeded to hit the snake with a metal tong.

The cleaner was stopped in time by a Tamil language teacher from hitting the snake any further.

Jacob Tan, a biology teacher at Commonwealth Secondary, shared about the incident on Facebook on May 9.

They thought it was dead

In his post, Tan recounted that the snake was later handed to him in a white trash bag, seemingly immobile and with blood stains on the bag.

Tan showed the bag to his colleagues and the school principal, describing what happened.

He also spoke with the school cleaners to reiterate to them how to better handle such wildlife encounters.

Tan is an avid nature enthusiast who has spearheaded numerous environmental initiatives at Commonwealth Secondary, including the cultivation of a large "rainforest" garden in one of the school courtyards.

The garden is a thriving wetland habitat where even the occasional monitor lizard can be spotted.

"These eco-habitats have matured to become safe refuge for wildlife that are attracted into the school, as well as a living classroom for teachers to draw lessons from," Tan told Mothership.

Tan, and a colleague of his, brought the snake to the entrance of the rainforest garden and laid the snake out on a piece of paper:

snakeonpaper Photo courtesy of Tan.

They had intended to document the carcass for "Death by Man", an Instagram account that documents human-caused wildlife deaths in Singapore.

Just then, they noticed that the body of the snake was "constricting and relaxing" and realised that the snake had, thankfully, somehow survived.

Released into garden, becomes teaching opportunity

Tan and his colleague then transferred the snake onto a branch in the rainforest garden, hoping it would coil around it.

When the snake failed to coil around the branch, Tan and his colleague placed it on the forest floor instead:

snakeonground Photo courtesy of Tan.

They monitored the snake for two hours and explained to students passing by what to do when encountering a snake, turning the situation into a valuable teaching opportunity.

Speaking to Mothership, Tan said he explained to the students that "snakes are shy" and "would rather not meet humans as opposed to what most people might think". Tan thinks that misconceptions about snakes partly stem from inaccurate media portrayals.

The snake eventually recovered enough strength to later slither up the tree:

snakegouptree Photo courtesy of Tan.

In his Facebook post, Tan thanked the Tamil language teacher for intervening to stop the cleaner from hitting the snake, despite her fear of the creatures.

Tan also mentioned that in another school "this snake would possibly be killed, without any question asked."

Not the first time

This is not the first time Tan has had to deal with snakes at Commonwealth Secondary.

Back in 2020, Tan, who attended wildlife rescue training at the Animal Concerns & Research Education Society (Acres), helped to relocate a reticulated python spotted at school.

He even brought the snake to class in a clear plastic container for what must have been a memorable science class:

In 2020, Tan also helped to relocate another golden tree snake spotted at a fourth-floor classroom corridor. The snake was about to be flung off the building by cleaners before Tan calmly picked it up with a bag and released it, at ground level, into the rainforest garden.

A post on the school's Instagram account recounted the incident and also provided an infographic for students to learn more about how to deal with snake encounters:

screenshotinstaaccount Screenshot from @cwsssg account.

According to Tan, students and staff know to inform the school's General Office if they spot an injured animal or an animal in need of attention. The school staff then reach out to Tan and a colleague of his who are trained by Acres to be rescue volunteers.

Tan explained to Mothership the educational value of such wildlife encounters for students:

"Sustainability education could become "suspicious" if our youth see a mismatch between what is taught and what's happening around them. Thus every wildlife encounter in school can be turned into a teachable moment for the entire school."

Tan also told Mothership that he sees the rainforest garden as allowing students to make sense of broad national goals of sustainability and conservation.

"We view our school as a microcosm of Singapore, with national goals like SG Green Plan, 30 by 30, City in Nature, and the OneMillionTrees movement all happening within a school context so that students can see some resemblance of our national goals within their campuses," Tan said.

The school's reputation for environmental education also serves as a draw for parents.

"All our parents are aware that they are sending their kids to a school that is pro-nature, because of years of reputation in environmental education. In fact, many parents actually are attracted to our school because of this very fact," Tan explained.

Golden tree snakes

The Golden tree snake (Chrysopelea Ornata) is a non-native, established species in Singapore.

According to National Geographic, the Chrysopelea genus, more commonly known as the flying snake, is "mildly venomous" and "harmless to humans".

Snakes within the genus can glide between trees. According to National Geographic, they can propel themselves off branches and flatten their round bodies into a "concave C shape" to trap air. They can even make turns in the air by "undulating back and forth".

The National Parks Board (NParks) advises the public, in the event of encountering a snake, to "observe [it] from a safe distance, as snakes will not attack until disturbed or provoked."

The public is advised to stay calm and back away slowly to give the snake space to retreat. NParks also advises the general public not to approach or attempt to handle snakes.

The public can also call NParks at 1800-476-1600 or Acres at 97837782 if in need of assistance or if a wild animal is seen to be in distress.

Top photo courtesy of Jacob Tan.