Snake charming is an ancient art form that most of us will have seen (or want to see) when travelling to Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia… to mention but a few. Snake charming itself has been around for thousands of years, with one of the earliest records going as far back as the Bible.

Like I said earlier, we’re probably all aware of what snake charming is especially with it often being considered a major photo opportunity when visiting a new destination where its heritage prevails but before you take that selfie, it’s probably worth taking the time to think a little bit more about the practises that go into snake charming as it exists today.

Snake Charming Cruelty (3)

The history of snake charming.

The art of snake charming is considered to be an ancient technique that is now believed to have risen in India, particularly through healers that would showcase their ability to hypnotise a cobra. The act in itself would involve a healer housing a cobra within a basket and playing a pungi or bansuri with the snake almost transfixed upon the playing instrument. It was historically believed to be a magical or blessed act that many healers would display around their local communities.

How is the snake hypnotised?

The reality of a snake being hypnotised is a little different from what you’d think or expect. Snakes can’t actually hear the noise of the instrument and instead focus on the pungi (or bansuri) and the player, assuming the player to be a threat to the itself (i.e. the snake). The snake thus keeps full eye contact upon the instrument and the moving parts of the player – particularly the hands around the instrument.

Snake Charming Cruelty (2)

How a snake is starved to death through sewing and ripping.

Snake charmers are benefiting from a rise in tourism which in itself would not be bad if there was no cruelty, harm or even captivity involved. The truth is some (not all) snake charmers capture wild cobras, ripping out their fangs and sewing the mouths shut so they can never strike the charmer. These snakes then die a horrible death from starvation, taking many excruciating months. Once the snake dies, the charmer goes out to capture more snakes to use for ‘those photographs’ taken by many-a-tourist.

Understandably, many people (in fact, I’d argue that most people) who take these photos, have no idea what goes on in the back scenes – I certainly didn’t, although I have to admit, I’m not the biggest fan of snakes (I’m kinda terrified of them) so I was never going to be one to queue up for those photos in the first place.

Snake Charming Cruelty (1)

What you can do to help…

Now, while I can’t say that snakes are my favourite animal, I detest the thought of cruelty, in any way to any animal or person. The thing is, if we all knew about the awful cycle set in place by some (again, I repeat – not all) snake charmers, it may make us all think twice before rushing to snap that shot and contribute to an ever growing problem in many countries.

I’m not advocating that local people don’t benefit from tourism – that would be utterly ridiculous to even suggest! What I am saying however is that as tourists and travellers, try our best to travel armed with the facts and make sensible decisions that benefit, not just ourselves or the locals wherever you’re visiting in the short term but that ensures that we strive to leave a long-term positive impact wherever we visit.

Curious about what to do when you visit Morocco? You should definitely try these experiences!

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  • That is horrifying!! I had no idea…snakes aren’t may fav either, but that is so sad. Thank you for giving us insight on this subject!


    • HandLuggageOnly

      You had the same reaction as me Emma, it really is awful. I was horrified to find out! xx

  • I’ve never thought too much about snake charming because I’ve actually never encountered it on my travels but I’m strongly against any form of animal cruelty and the slow starvation of the snakes is just horrific!

    • HandLuggageOnly

      I know what you mean Abigail. It shocked me when I found out too! x

  • Luana Kraemer

    I was in Morocco in 2014, and I’m also terrifying of snakes… So, I wouldn’t take photos with them anyway, and when I was in Marrakech, a guy with a snake came to me and when I saw, the snake was almost in my arm! OMG! I freaked out… started screaming and got out running as fast as I could 😛 But when some other guy, a guide, told us how they make the snake to be so quiet, we got really sad about it, and I always say to friends who go there to not take photos with snakes, not support this horrifying thing.

    • HandLuggageOnly

      Thank you so much for sharing Luana. You’re totally right – I was exactly the same as you!

      It made me feel really bad when I found out the reality of the situation. Thank you so much sharing your personal experience too 🙂

      Lloyd x

  • Jenn Sie

    I did go to Morocco. I wouldn’t have particularly gone out of my way to get a photo but the person I went with wanted to look and then they wanted to put the snake on me (for money, obviously). I didn’t say ‘no’. Snakes don’t bother me. I didn’t know this was going on, though. I thought they had the snakes for awhile as pets and trusted them. I don’t know why I thought that.

    • HandLuggageOnly

      Thanks so much for sharing Jenn. I had no idea either, it seems like such a hidden fact that none of us really know about… I definitely didn’t.

      It literally is something you just don’t consider until someone tells you.

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience too. Morocco is beautiful, I bet you had such a great time!

      Lloyd x

  • Thanks so much for this post! I have seen the monkeys in Morocco as well as Thailand and visited rehabilitation centers for rescued monkeys – so I would never pay to have my picture taken with a monkey regardless of how much I may want to. And so I have been wondering about the snakes you see in Marrakech as well. While I also don’t care for snakes much and tend to avoid them, I agree that this is a horrible practice in shouldn’t be supported. I think the fact alone that they are taken from nature, basically becoming working animals is dubious.

    • HandLuggageOnly

      Thank so much for sharing your own personal experience too. Exactly! The whole thought of what goes on actually made me feel a little sick. It’s so sad for the animals involved. I would have loved to visit the rehabilitation centre for Monkeys in Thailand.

      I had no idea it existed – thanks for letting us know… the more we all realise the impact we have, the more informed decisions we can make.

      Lloyd 🙂


      • I went during an Intrepid trip – it was the Gibbon Rehabilitation Centre. It is the saddest thing as they actually shoot the mothers who will drop their babies in the process which will get caught. Baby monkeys make more money, but once they grow up they also get drugged, have their teeth pulled until they are too old and get discarded. Think you just gave me the idea for a new post 🙂

        • HandLuggageOnly

          Oh gosh! That’s the most harrowing account I’ve heard. It’s so so so sad. I had no idea that existed with monkeys in Thailand. It makes me feel so sick, the thought of such awful things happening.

          Please do let me know when you’ve published your post, I’d honestly love to read it.

          Lloyd x

  • I had no idea about the grisly truth behind snake charming. The romantic/idealist in me simply let myself believe ‘IT’S MAGIC’ or ‘SNAKE WHISPERER OMG’. I’m not the biggest fan of snakes, but gosh, I wouldn’t wish that kind of cruelty on any living creature :

    Jasiminne: Posh, Broke, & Bored

    • HandLuggageOnly

      Exactly! You’re so right Jasiminne. I’m the same with snakes too,. The cruelty involved is just so horrific, it honestly shocked me!

      I totally had the same idea as you too (so glad I wasn’t alone there) – I thought the process was such a magical experience… until I found out the grim reality for some. 🙁

      Lloyd x

  • Pingback: Monkey business & the business with monkeys. | The Midnight Blue Elephant()

  • Zara

    Thanks for this informative post! It is so important to know exactly what goes on behind the scenes when it comes to anything involving animals. I know a lot of people who have been to the Tiger Kingdom place in Thailand because they wanted a selfie with a doped out tiger, not taking the time to check whether the tigers are treated well or not (of course they’re not, a tiger wouldn’t naturally let you lie all over it without it attacking you!). I think anything that causes an animal to do something against its natural nature should send of alarm bells.

    • HandLuggageOnly

      Exactly Zara! You hit the nail on the head! It’s so true – if the behaviour is unnatural we really should all question the ‘why’s and how’s’.

      Thanks for sharing your personal opinion too! I hadn’t heard about the Tiger Kingdom, that sounds awful to hear 🙁


  • Very interesting! I love snakes but I had never actually thought about this before (I guess because I’ve never came across a snake charmer in real life). Will definitely be sharing! Thank you x

    • HandLuggageOnly

      I had no idea before visiting either. As soon as I found out I just had to share xx