Myanmar monk saves snakes from the slaughter

Snakes have found a safe space in Myanmar - a global hub for the illegal wildlife trade.

For five years, this Buddhist temple in the city of Yangon has been taking in pythons and cobras and vipers otherwise destined for the black market.

The sanctuary is run by Wilatha, a monk at the temple.

"I always check on their health every morning. I feel from the bottom of my heart that they are my sons and daughters."

The snakes are usually caught in or near homes, brought here by members of the community.

According to Buddhist beliefs, saving a life will earn them 'merit,' though Wilatha's mission has an environmental angle, as well.

"If I don't save these snakes and shelter them here, these snakes will be sold off in the black market. If so, the python would be extinct in Myanmar in the future. I believe that losing even one animal species will cause problems to nature. Even though we don't know specifically about their benefit to nature, the species are helping our environment."

Conservationists say snakes are often smuggled to neighboring countries like China and Thailand, where they're eaten or used to make traditional medicine.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature has sounded the alarm about their shrinking numbers, listing the Burmese python as "vulnerable" in Southeast Asia.

Wilatha has made it part of his job to get the residents of his sanctuary back to the wild.

Working with the forest authority, he releases those he feels are ready, hoping they are never caught again.