Marines drink cobra blood in US-Thai war drills

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A US Marine drinks the blood of a cobra during a jungle survival exercise as part of the "Cobra Gold 2018" (CG18) joint military exercise, at a military base in Chonburi province, Thailand, on Monday. (REUTERS)
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A US Marine drinks the blood of a cobra during a jungle survival exercise as part of the "Cobra Gold 2018" (CG18) joint military exercise, at a military base in Chonburi province, Thailand, on Monday. (REUTERS)
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A US Marine eats a geko during a jungle survival exercise as part of the "Cobra Gold 2018" (CG18) joint military exercise, at a military base in Chonburi province, Thailand, on Monday. (REUTERS)
Updated 20 February 2018
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Marines drink cobra blood in US-Thai war drills

CHON BURI, Thailand: US and Thai marines slurped snake blood and ate scorpions in a jungle survival program on Monday as part of the two nations’ annual Cobra Gold war games.
Now in its 37th year, Cobra Gold is one of the largest military exercises in Asia, bringing thousands of troops from the United States, Thailand and other countries for 10 days of field training on Thai shores.
On Monday, several dozen US and Thai marines took park in an annual jungle survival drill on a Thai navy base in Chonburi province, where troops took turns drinking blood from a severed cobra before grilling and eating the snakes.
Thai military trainers also taught the group — which included South Korean troops — how to remove venom from scorpions and tarantulas before eating them, find water in jungle vines and identity edible plants.
“The key to survival is knowing what to eat,” said Thai Sergeant Major Chaiwat Ladsin, who led the drill that also saw the marines take bites of a raw gecko.
“Definitely my first time drinking snake blood... It’s not something we do too often in America,” US Sergeant Christopher Fiffie told AFP after the training.
“I think I’ll be able to hold my own out there,” he added. “The biggest take was how exactly they get their water as well as the vegetation that you can eat.”
This year’s Cobra Gold exercise drew some 6,800 US personnel to the war games — nearly double last year’s attendance, in the latest sign of warming relations between the two allies.
A 2014 army coup in Thailand tested ties with Washington, which urged a return to democracy and scaled back military aid.
But the two countries have upped their engagement under US President Donald Trump, who has taken a softer stance on human rights issues and even embraced Thai junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha in the White House.
The US is also keen to flex its military muscle in Asia amid tensions with North Korea over the pariah state’s nuclear missile program.
“The (attendance) numbers are reflective of the US commitment in the region,” US embassy spokesman Stephane Castonguay told AFP at the start of the exercise.
“The focus of this exercise still remains humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, in addition to community relations projects.”
Troops from Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea and Singapore also participated in this year’s drills.


Mystical connection: The African village where crocodiles are welcome

Updated 19 June 2018
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Mystical connection: The African village where crocodiles are welcome

BAZOULE, Burkina Faso: Crocodiles may be one of the deadliest hunters in the animal kingdom, but in a small village in Burkina Faso it is not unusual to see someone sitting atop one of the fearsome reptiles.
People in Bazoule, around 30 kilometers from the capital Ouagadougou, share their pond with more than 100 of the razor-toothed creatures.
“We got used to the crocodiles when we were young, swimming in the water with them and all that,” said Pierre Kabore, just a few meters (yards) away from a crocodile feasting on chicken provided by the village.
“Now we can always approach them and sit on them — and if you have the courage, you can lie on them too. There’s no problem, they are sacred crocodiles. They don’t do anything to anyone.”
According to local legend, the startling relationship with the predators dates back to at least the 15th century.
The village was in the grip of an agonizing drought until the crocodiles led women to a hidden pond where the population could slake their thirst.
“The villagers organized a party to celebrate and thank the reptiles,” Kabore said.
A celebration known as Koom Lakre is still held every year during which villagers make sacrifices and ask the animals to grant their wishes of health, prosperity and a good harvest.
Far from being considered a threat, the crocodiles are deemed to have a mystical connection with Bazoule.
“Crocodiles are represented as the soul of our ancestors and if one of them dies, they are buried and even given a funeral as if they were human,” said Kabore.
“When a misfortune is about to happen in the village, they cry out. Elders are charged with interpreting the cries, and then make wishes to ward off bad luck.”
The unusual contact between man and croc has drawn disbelieving tourists to the village to see for themselves.
On their arrival, travelers can buy a chicken which is hung on a stick by a guide and used to entice the crocodiles out of the pond so that visitors can pose with the creatures.
“It was nice to watch from a distance but sitting on one was a bit freaky,” said Thomas Baspin, a young Frenchman who came to visit his grandparents in Burkina Faso.
“I’m glad I did it — but I’m also glad it’s over!” he quipped.
Tourism has become a big money-spinner for the impoverished villagers, but a three-year-old jihadist insurgency in Burkina Faso is taking its toll.
Ouagadougou has come under attack three times, most recently in March, when jihadists attacked the military headquarters and French embassy.
“We could have more than 10,000 visitors per year but at the moment, there’s no more than 4,000 or 5,000,” said Raphael Kabore, one of the guides.
Global warming is also believed to be having an impact. Rainfall levels are down each year, and the famous pond that is the crocodiles’ home is shrinking. When it disappears, will the reptiles once more guide their human friends to a new watery home?