Recently I was in discussion with a friend about snake rescue and we just decided to pen down a list of snake friends in our knowledge that have died due to snakebites. In 30 minutes we could come up with 29 names, there may be additions to this list if we start researching on a serious note. Also, we’ve not included those who’d lost their limbs or had disfigured them due to envenomation. And this we are talking only about western and central Maharashtra. When you look at this list it’s very disturbing.
What happened? Mistakes? Carelessness? Accidents? We do not know and I don’t want to go into the details of that. But in the end there is loss of life, there are broken families and worst is the impact on snakes, as after every such case the conservation of snakes is negatively impacted.
Deaths of snake friends in our knowledge due to snake bite –
|12||Rajan Kakade||Russell’s viper||Deorukh|
|21||Pappu Yadav||Russell’s viper||Morgaon|
|26||Rahul Suvarnkar||Russell’s viper||Latur|
|28||Tukaram Favare||Cobra||Mandangad, Dapoli|
Many people want to become snake friends. It’s so easy, just start catching snakes, and there you became a snake friend. Is there any need to catch them? How do you do it? What precautions do you take? What you do with the snakes after they’re rescued? How many times do you handle it to show off? Nothing matters, except that if you are able to catch a snake you become a ‘snake friend’ (sarp mitra).
Such an easy friendship!
Please take a look at the list above, the magnitude of responsibility it carries to become a snake friend can be clearly seen.
‘Rescue’ by definition (here) means saving an animal from an adverse situation and rehabilitating it back into its natural environment. Unfortunately most ‘rescues’ do not fit this definition. In several/ most cases, the snake is just moved from one stressful situation to another, or (often) an area outside its original ‘home range’.
When we talk about ‘rescue’ we really should be thinking about what’s good for the snake and not us.
Do you think taking a snake from one environment where it is actively foraging/ living and dumping it into a new environment is rescue?????
Do you think capturing a snake from an adverse situation and then using it for live shows for ‘education’ is rescue?????????
Do you think handling, kissing snakes and showing off your images on social media is rescue??????
If you answer all the above questions in positive, then, are we really doing snake RESCUE????????
That’s where the shift needs to take place in our minds and we should rethink the term ‘rescue’ and use it so as to suit the welfare of the snake.
Around two decades back there was a dire need to create a positive image of snakes in our community and during those days there was a lack of digital media for communication, which is available today. Therefore, during those days, showing off your snake handling images or doing live snake shows had a positive impact to create a whole line of people who started conserving snakes and making efforts to get this group of animal kingdom to a respectable level.
In today’s world, our snake conservation efforts should move away from snake handling, snake shows and catching them to creating a society for co-existence, reduction of snake bites and fatalities and more focus on researching about the species.
One simple SOP, which you can follow for snake rescue work, is given below. There can be an inclusion of more points depending on the situation.
What I’m writing below are the ‘least’ or minimal things to follow –
- Identify the need for rescue – Rescue only when unavoidable.
- Get acquainted with safer bagging techniques.
- Always work in pairs when possible.
- Minimize the handling of a snake; twice per snake only – once while bagging and once while releasing. Avoid all unnecessary handling.
- In case of injuries to snakes or transfers to another bag/ box, handle with care and again do it only if absolutely necessary.
- If the snake is fit for release, then do it without any delay (ASAP).
- Keep records of rescue (bagging to release) – Submit it regularly to the Forest Department.
- Get acquainted with First aid, and always carry a ‘SAFE SNAKES’ card which has information about the nearest hospital, relative’s number and personal details like blood group, past history of bites (any anti-venom sensitivity) and if possible, contact number of some expert medical professional for guiding doctors about the latest treatment protocol, nearest Forest Department office number & Police station’s number.
- To attend regular refresher’s course in identification and rescue techniques (once a year – which can be organized by inviting experts).
TO BE STRICTLY AVOIDED –
- Keeping live snakes in captivity (except for medical treatment under notification to DCF, Wildlife Office of the respective area)
- Live snake shows for whatever purpose.
- Handling snakes when not needed.
And without showing any disrespect to those snake friends who have lost their lives (some of them were close friends) I would like to say, – if you still feel that snake handling is a glamorous thing and you will get popularity by excessive handling, showing off, not following procedures or making mistakes your name might (tragically) make it to the list above.