Drawing on a combination of natural instinct and modern technology, the earthquake bureau in Nanning, the capital of south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, has developed a snake-based earthquake-detection system.
Experts at the bureau monitor nests of snakes at local snake farms via video cameras linked to a broadband Internet connection. The video feed runs 24 hours per day.
"Of all the creatures on the earth, snakes are perhaps the most sensitive to earthquakes," Jiang Weisong, director of the bureau, told China Daily.
Jiang said snakes could sense a coming earthquake from 120 kilometers away, three to five days before it actually happens. They respond by behaving erratically. "When an earthquake is about to occur, snakes will move out of their nests, even in the cold of winter," Jiang said. "If the earthquake is a big one, the snakes will even smash into walls while trying to escape."
Jiang said other animals like dogs and chickens also behave abnormally when an earthquake is about to happen.
Nanning is located in an area that is prone to earthquakes and is one of 12 cities across the country monitored by hi-tech equipment.
In recent years, the city has attached great importance to monitoring and forecasting possible earthquakes. The city has set up one earthquake monitoring center, five remote monitoring stations, three warning signs stations and 143 animal monitoring units.
"By installing cameras over the snake nests, we have improved our ability to forecast earthquakes," Jiang said. "The system could be extended to other parts of the country to make our earthquake forecasts more precise."
Jiang said the government could combine the bureau's snake-based monitoring system with poverty-relief efforts. "We can kill two birds with one stone," Jiang said. "By supporting farmers who raise snakes, we not only improve our ability to forecast earthquakes, but also provide more sources of income to people who need it."
Jiang said raising snakes could be a very profitable business because of the huge market for the reptiles. "Every part of a snake is highly valuable," Jiang said.
For example, snake venom has been used as a treatment for certain types of cancers and has been found to relieve hardening of the arteries and cerebral thrombus.
Jiang said he had written a letter to the central government seeking funds to build more snake-monitoring stations. "Local farmers have welcomed the cameras and broadband," Jiang said. "They can access information on the Internet, such as techniques for raising snakes and demand for snakes in the market."
(China Daily December 28, 2006)