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As Hong Kong prepares to usher in the Year of the Snake, an increasing number of the reptiles are slithering their way into local households, with sales of the uncuddly pet rocketing.

Keeping snakes has become increasingly popular in the densely populated city in recent years, as animal lovers seek out less space-hungry pets. And with the spotlight firmly on the reptile in the lead-up to the Lunar New Year today, sales have surged.

At Reptile Paradise, a store which first opened its doors in Hong Kong’s Mong Kok neighbourhood in 1994, dozens of baby snakes, no more than a few weeks old, frantically try to climb their way out of small plastic boxes.

Director Vincent Cheung said snake sales had risen steadily for several months prior to the arrival of the new year.

He had sold 100 to 150 snakes in the past three months, and remembers a similar spike in 2001, the previous Year of the Snake, with Hong Kongers in their twenties and thirties the most eager customers.

Popular breeds in Hong Kong include the North American corn snake and milk snake, which measure only 25cm when they are young.

While popular pet reptiles such as the turtle represent luck, longevity and fortune, the snake has a mixed reputation in Chinese culture.

Although it can signify intelligence and happiness, it is also associated with tragedy - some believe that if a snake is found in the home it means impending disaster, although others feel that such a discovery brings good luck and peace.

In culinary terms, it is a delicacy in southern Chinese cuisine, as well as being seen as a health booster.

In Hong Kong, practicality and a certain cool factor are fuelling sales, as well as money-making potential.

“Some people think it’s a good idea to impress the girls with snakes, and some people want to keep them to make money through breeding,” said Gourry Chan, a director at Mong Kok’s Turtle Park pet shop. - Sapa-AFP