Did you know that there are more than 35,000 species of the snake around the world, of which only 600 are venomous? “Of these 600, 330 species are found in India. So that math is clear. There are only a few that we need to be cautious about. The most commonly found dangerous snakes are the ones we call the big four — krait, Russel’s viper, aaw- scaled viper and Indian spectacled cobra,” explains Asad Bakhtiar Choudhary, a member of the Friends of Snake Society (FOSS), Hyderabad.
Today is World Snake Day. While it doesn’t mean we should go find a snake and hug it, it is a day to increase awareness about the different species of the snake around the world. “The mention of a snake doesn’t evoke the same emotion as does the mention of a dog or a cat. Most people are scared of snakes and the fear stems from the unfamiliarity. So, the immediate reaction on seeing a snake is to either kill it or run away from it,” rues Asad.
According to Friends of Snake Society, the only way to make snakes less fearsome is “start with a visit to the local zoo, sanctuary, or at the very least, a pet shop. The Friends of Snakes Society (Hyderabad), Wildlife SOS (Delhi), SAARP (Mumbai), and Madras Crocodile Bank (Chennai) are centres where one can learn about snakes and other reptiles.The species commonly found across India are the non- venomous Rat snakes; venomous Spectacled Cobras and the Russell’s Viper.
Rat snakes are fast-moving, and long growing species (7-8 feet) ranging from olive black to yellowish grey with shiny scales. Spectacled Cobras are uniformly ash coloured or wheat-brown and best known for their magnificent trademark hood upon sensing a threat. The venomous Russell’s Vipers are stout bodied, growing up to 5-6 feet and having three rows of dark symmetrical patches on their dorsal body.
The probability of encountering these snakes is however subject to various factors such as the season, habitat, time of the day and so on.
Where to start
On behalf of FOSS, Asad says, “Children are naturally inquisitive and unprejudiced beings. As we grow up, we learn that the sun is orange, fishes are restricted to water, and several other such notions – all of which while normalising an otherwise strange world to us, also diminishes our understanding of its limitless possibilities. ‘Fear’ is one such constitutional element of a person’s psyche, which agreed, while being an evolutionary tenet in ensuring the sustenance of the species, can in exceeding proportions limit an individual from taking control of their surroundings. This fear may then stem and branch into irrational belief systems, falsifications, and subsequent hatred.”
Right way to celebrate
Animal rescuer Sanjeev Nag says, “Begin with being aware of the surroundings, appreciate and respect lives around us. It may not be just snakes. Being compassionate and making an effort to learn about an unfamiliar subject will go a long way. Religious beliefs and superstitions should be kept separate. Our education system must look at including survival lessons and compassion for everyone. As an animal lover and rescuer, I am licensed to rescue snakes and I have done a few rescues (so that the snakes are not killed) with the use of common sense and knowledge derived from snake rescue shows on Nat Geo and Discovery Animal.”
His urges, “There are many NGOs and people working to save snakes. Before you take the step to kill it, reach out to them. Snakes go a long way in protecting our bio-diversity.”
The biggest myth
According to Allwin Jesudasan, Director, Madras Crocodile Bank Trust/Centre for Herpetology, “Thanks mostly to Hollywood, Bollywood, and TV, there are several myths about snakes. While some are harmless myths, some can be dangerous to both humans and snakes. One myth, for example, is that if someone is bitten by a venomous snake, they will survive if they bite the snake back. Such myths are dangerous because in many cases, snakes give a ‘dry’ bite. Meaning that they don’t inject venom even when they bite. When a person tries to bite the snake back, there are more chances that the snakes will bite back – this time, by injecting venom.”
What is the most common question that Allwin comes across about snakes? “One common question that we get is “How do you handle such ‘slimy’ animals ?” When we tell people that snakeskin is, in fact, dry, they are very surprised and then want to touch them. This is one of the first steps to get over the fear of snakes.”