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Zoo offers rare massage by snakes

By: - Day Desk Editor / @dbongcac
/ 08:25 PM December 27, 2013

Zoo visitors try out the snake massage, one of the features of the Cebu City Zoo that zoo managers launched to make up for the loss of one of its popular attractions, a tiger that died. JUNJIE MENDOZA/CEBU DAILY NEWS

Snake massage anyone? This is the latest attraction at the Cebu City Zoo in Barangay Kalunasan, Cebu City.

The zoo’s Burmese pythons —Michelle, Walter, EJ and Daniel—give visitors a 15-minute massage by slithering on their bodies.

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“It’s like having a child walking on your body,” said lawyer Jose Marie Poblete, Cebu City administrator.

Poblete tried the snake massage during a recent visit to the zoo to attend the blessing and inauguration of the zoo’s newly built view deck and rest rooms costing P4 million.

Not all zoo visitors, however, wanted to try the snake massage. Richelle Joy Quiqui, 11, said she would never allow snakes to come close to her.

Quiqui tried to peek at the snakes while she stayed behind adult spectators who watched Poblete try the snake massage.

Unable to stand the sight of the snakes, she left and went back to her family who was having a picnic in a nearby shed.

The city zoo’s snake massage is now gaining popularity among local and foreign zoo visitors since they started to offer the attraction early this month, said zoo manager Giovanni Romarate.

Massage for free

After paying the entrance fee of P25 for adults and P20 for children, zoo visitors will get a change to try the snake massage.

Guests are made to lie down on a bamboo bed near the zoo’s main entrance. Five to six zoo personnel then bring out Michelle, an 87-kilogram Burmese python, from a nearby bamboo cage, which she occupies, and place her on top of the guests.

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Next to be carried out of his cage is Walter who weighs 76 kg. EJ, 39 kg, and Daniel, 24 kg, are added to give the guest a 10- to 15-minute massage. Zoo keepers watch over the guests to make sure the snakes do no harm.

“We have to put a limit to the snake massage to accommodate all those who want to try it,” said Romarate.

A snake massage in the Philippines is only available at the Cebu City Zoo.

The Bali Heritage Reflexology and Spa in Indonesia also offers snake massages but it makes use of two 6-foot-long pythons to do the job.

A 90-minute treatment at the Indonesian spa costs 480,000 rupiah or $43, or about P1,800.

At the Cebu City Zoo, Burmese pythons measuring 3 meters to 5 meters long perform the job of masseurs for free.

No grip

“You do not feel any grip. It’s more of having pressure on your body because of the heavy load from the snakes,” Poblete told the Inquirer.

For a first timer like him, Poblete said it was difficult to concentrate and enjoy the snake massage because of the eerie feeling of allowing cold-blooded creatures crawl all over your body and because of the fear of being bitten or lynched by the snakes.

But Romarate said the snake massage was safe.

“Snakes do not attack for as long as they are also not harmed. We also made sure that we use pythons for our snake massages because they are not venomous,” said Romarate who owns Michelle and Walter.

The two Burmese pythons lived with Romarate’s family in his home in the mountain barangay of Tabunan after these were given to him by a friend a few years back. He brought the two snakes to the zoo in 2007 when he was employed as zoo manager.

Tourists try out the embrace of an albino Burmese python. JUNJIE MENDOZA/CEBU DAILY NEWS

Romarate thought of using his Burmese pythons as an attraction when the zoo’s lone Bengal tiger, Bogart, died six months ago.

He thought of new attractions since he did not want a decline in the monthly income— about P100,000—that the zoo generates.

Bogart was the crowd drawer of the zoo and popular among visitors, mostly students on educational trips.

The city zoo keeps birds, monkeys, crocodiles, turtles, pythons and a deer.

Like a hand massage

The snake massage came to being when Romarate brought out the pythons to show off to some guests from Tajikistan.

The snakes were put on the bamboo bed for the guests. One of the guests saw one snake slither over the body of a zoo keeper. The guest uttered the words “snake massage,” which became a eureka moment for Romarate.

Romarate said that since then, the zoo had been offering snake massages to guests who are adventurous enough.

Among guests who tried the snake massage were Japanese, American and Canadian tourists.

“At first, they felt fear but most of the guests who tried the snake massage said they liked it. It’s like getting a hand massage. You get to enjoy the cold grip of our snakes,” Romarate said.

Some of the foreign guests even donated meat to help feed the snakes, he added.

Michelle, for one, consumes 25 pieces of chicken during her monthly feeding.

Romarate said he was trying to find ways to improve the snake massage service of the zoo.

He said, however, that he had “not come across any actual study to prove the therapeutic benefits of a snake massage.”

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TAGS: Animals, Cebu, Cebu City Zoo, massage, Philippines, Tourism, zoo
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