When he handles snakes, Nikolay Dorashenko usually wears protective glasses.
“You never hold these snakes near your face, a bite there can kill you in two or three minutes,” the owner of Sihanoukville’s Snake House Restaurant said.
His warning proved appropriate.
Fifteen minutes later a king cobra spat venom in Dorashenko’s left eye, possibly blinding him.
To pose for a photographer, he had temporarily moved the reptile nearer to his face, and he wasn’t wearing his glasses.
Snakes are like that. And the Uzbek restaurateur should know. He treats over 200 Cambodian villagers every year for snake bites.
After passing out cold for a few hours, Dorashenko and his eye were, luckily, both okay.
It was the third time in a couple of years that a snake had fired a well-aimed stream of venom in Dorashenko’s eyes, a waiter explained.
The Snake House has been open and safely entertaining tourists with its display of 20 varieties of Cambodian snakes for three years.
In it stylish confines, one can eat caviar and other Russian delicacies while sitting next to a Mekong crocodile and listening to the jabbering of rare owls and parrots.
But Dorashenko has big plans and more than just snakes up his sleeves.
Before the end of the year, he plans to open a shark restaurant and hotel on Dek Korl Island off of Sihanoukville coast.
Six local sharks will be put into glass aquariums on the island, Dorashenko explained, with dangerous species being separated from friendly. Guests will be able to view the animals from underground viewing stations and the intrepid will be able to swim with friendly species.
“I think a lot of people will stay in my hotel because it will have the first aquarium in Cambodia,” Dorashenko said after recovering last week.
Seventy workers are employed to finish the aquarium-hotel. When it is complete, rooms will cost between $15 and $20 per night.
Dorashenko came to Cambodia in 1993. He had earned a masters degree in reptile zoology, also known as herpetology, at the University of Tashkent, Uzbekistan and has loved handling snakes since he was a small boy.
He worked for the NGO Wild Aid and as an adviser to Minister of Environment Mok Mareth in the 1990s.
He also designed Cambodia’s premier zoo at Phnom Tamao, where tigers, gibbons and rare sun bears today find refuge.
Dorashenko said he got permission from the Ministry of Environment to exhibit snakes and sharks.
Part of his aim is to get Cambodians to see snakes as beautiful rather than just dangerous forest pests.
“I want to teach people to love snakes and not be afraid,” he said.
“The Snake House is unlike the other snake restaurants because snake is not on the menu.”
Some of the snakes in the restaurant were purchased for as little as $0.50 from villagers, while the deadly green vipers, pythons and seven cobras were caught on wildlife expeditions by Dorashenko.
“I have only been bitten once, by one of the little Green vipers,” he said of one of his most poisonous residents. And only once has a deadly snake escaped, he adds.
The idea for a shark restaurant came when the snake handler, who also leads diving and fishing expeditions, caught a 104-kg shark off Sihanoukville last year.
And he has plans to catch a few more.
“I know the sea here has several species of man-eating sharks,” he added. “I will catch those for the hotel myself.”
The cambodia daily