But one of the animals that doesn’t have quite as many fans in Baghdad is the Iraqi snake. Ask any local: People tend to think of them as dangerous pests.
I consider the snakes more important than my need for fun or entertainment.
None of that matters to Mahdi Laith, a 30-year-old local, who has established a special room in his Karrada apartment for the snakes and reptiles he breeds. He calls it his “room of happiness”.
He started breeding the cold-blooded creatures about ten years ago out of a sense of sympathy for them. “Most snakes are not even venomous,” he argues, “or they have very little venom. And it is not our right as humans to kill them.”
Laith’s first snake was a two-year-old Iraqi dwarf snake. “It was one of the prettiest animals I ever saw and I was very fond of it,” he says. “When it died, I cried so much.”
Since then his collection has grown - a lot. He now has seven snakes, three turtles and a number of crabs, chameleons and lizards, among other things. His favourite snakes are those that grow to three or four meters long. His cold-blooded pets have Arabic names and he feeds the carnivorous ones mice and poultry, that he buys specially, while others are vegetarian. He has also started breeding cockroaches to feed his lizards.
His friends think he is slightly crazy about his reptiles but that isn’t stopping Laith. He spent his savings travelling to Malaysia for a year to breed snakes and to learn more about nature reserves where snakes are protected. He would like to establish a similar kind of reserve in Iraq and has been in regular touch with several animal conservation organizations about this. His main goal? He doesn’t think Iraqis really appreciate the country’s snakes enough – he’s hoping to change that.
“I consider the snakes more important than my need for fun or entertainment,” he explains. “It’s because of snakes that I have not been able to buy a car,” he adds laughing.