June 12, 2018
Coimbatore: In two weeks, four persons have died of snake bite in Coimbatore, according to NGOs. Also, incidents of city residents spotting snakes in their gardens and houses have been on the rise.
Snakes have been rescued from kitchen sinks, staircases, grinders, unused water pipelines and public taps. While many Most people flee when they spot a snake, there are some who actively engage in saving them.
K Rathish (38), founder and president of Save Our Snakes (SOS) from Edayarpalayam and popularly known as Snake Rathish, is a model for all young snake catchers. He has made catching snakes his profession for the last one decade. Rathish told The Covai Post, “Catching snakes and releasing them into the wild is one of our noble service. I do not demand any money but when people give me something out of love I accept it gracefully. I have caught snakes in several government offices and commercial buildings as they approach me for help.”
He has rescued more than 15,000 snakes.”One day, I saw a group of people trying to kill a cobra on the road in north Nilgiris. To save the snake, I opened a gunny bag and it slithered into it. Though it was an accidental rescue, people started calling me whenever they found a snake.Snakes can survive without food for a few days but cannot bear the heat or go without water,” he says. “We wanted to form an organisation and publicise this service as we do not want to encourage unscrupulous elements catching snakes for a huge price,” said Rathish.
R Sanjay (35), an employee in a private organisation, is a snake catcher who grew up with a passion for this. He drew inspiration from the book ‘Snakes of India’ by Romulus Earl Whitaker. Later he joined Save our Snakes as part of social service and got training from Rathish.
He has rescued 7,000 snakes in the last one decade from various parts of Coimbatore,Tirupur and the Nilgiris with help of his teammates. About 50 snake species, including poisonous ones such as cobra, krait, russell’s viper and saw scaled viper, are found in the country. These are found even in the urban areas of Coimbatore, he says.
“This is because people throw food waste outside and rodents thrive on that. Snakes feed on them. Also, frogs that multiply during the monsoon are food for snakes. When we go for rescues, if it is nonvenomous, we educate people and talk about the ecological advantage of having snakes around. Ideally, people should learn to co-exist with snakes,” he says.
Even as the forest department guidelines clearly indicate that all wildlife come under the chief wildlife warden and that only licensed persons are allowed to catch snakes, these new age snake charmers, most of who do it as a hobby, go scott free and release these snakes into the wild without maintaining any data on the reptile.
According to one snake catcher, he has released at least 1,000 snakes in the forests surrounding Anaikatti alone, which could alter the balance in the region. “Ours is a forest fringe village and we have been seeing many types of snakes from early days. So I never had any fear of snake since my childhood,” he says.
Experts stress the need for aspiring young snake-catchers to take necessary precautions. K Santhosh, founder of the Mother of all Snakes, who has rescued more than 10,000 snakes in the last 15 years, says overconfidence can be fatal. He conducts workshops for new snake catchers, asking them to wear gloves and carry a head torch along with their hand torches on nocturnal rescue missions. “They should not be carrying the serpent back on a two-wheeler in a bag but inside a box with an overhead mesh and side latches,” he adds.
In Coimbatore, people would rather kill a snake than pay for it to be rescued. So, NGOs are offering the service for free. Volunteers are mainly young male students, retirees or wildlife enthusiasts with day jobs. Monsoon is the busiest season for these rescuers. They generally catch serpents from car engines, lift chambers and air-conditioners. It can be a tricky feat. Rescuers usually first ask the callers about the colour, length and pattern on the snake. “Callers also send pictures on WhatsApp so that we can know if it is venomous or not,” he added.