Today most love to be part of a virtual club called “I’ve been there and done that” and one of the activities that tops the list is ‘snake wrangling’! Thanks to umpteen programs on television channels that have promoted awareness and increased tolerance for reptiles, but have also induced people to blindly try what herp experts after years of training do on screen. Then there are others who rescue snakes ill equipped in terms of knowledge, equipments or protection. Some who have mastered the skill lack basic knowledge about snakes in general, but can be trained to do the job right. There are some who possess theoretical knowledge about snakes and want to study them but need training in handling them. Some are genuinely keen to expand their knowledge about reptiles. Then there is the “I know it all” group, who are beyond fixable.
Many snake rescuers keep rescued snakes under unhygienic conditions for days. Reasons may vary from showing it to friends and relatives or out of excessive ‘love’ for the snake. Though this is illegal not many are aware or they just ignore. Majority of them are ill equipped and with increasing numbers each rescuer also seem to have a territory which when crossed could prove a problem, ultimately ignoring the very cause i.e. the welfare of snakes.
As a keen reptile enthusiast I recognize this trend and believe that now is the time to educate and empower people on right and ethical methods of handling snakes or any other reptile. Hence we conceived a three series program called, STORM- Scientific training on Reptile Management which starts with basics on reptiles, right and ethical rescue methods, captive management, and field techniques to study reptiles.
The first workshop takes place at Mysore in collaboration with ‘Snake Shyam’, who has rescued over 22,000 snakes in and around Mysore! We work together to share our knowledge about the importance and methods of identifying snakes, measures to be taken before a rescue, using right equipments in the right way, first aid for snake bites, Do’s and Don’ts of snake rescue, information to collect before reaching the rescue location, legal issues with snake rescue, methods of recording data, creating awareness at the rescue site, and identifying relocation sites. The main highlight is the opportunity for participants to accompany us on live rescue calls where all the above topics are shown practically and participants learn by watching us at work.
The second workshop takes place in Centre for Herpetology, Madras Crocodile Bank Trust (MCBT), a gene pool for crocodiles. It is an ideal place to explore the world of reptiles and understand the big picture of captive management. Participants learn about unique designs of different crocodile pens made to suit habits of each species and assist in their maintenance. They get to help researchers in ongoing research by capturing crocodiles in their pens, measuring, and recording data. Understanding dietary requirements by feeding snakes, crocs, turtles and tortoises is a rare opportunity to get close to these reptiles. A visit to the venom extraction centre managed by the Irula tribe and a walk with these expert snake locators presents a different perspective to learning methods of locating snakes in the wild and appreciates the way the Irula co-operative society has given a reason for snakes and humans to co-habit these arid landscapes.
The third workshop focuses on sharing scientific methods of studying snakes in the wild. This takes place at the Centre for Rainforest Ecology in Agumbe. Part of the Western Ghats and home to the King Cobra, Agumbe offers every reptile enthusiast a platform to explore the world of snakes and other reptiles. With over 225 (i.e. 12%) endemic reptiles one gets an opportunity to appreciate this niche eco system rich in herpetofauna. Starting with a basic introduction to snakes found in this region participants then learn different sampling techniques, methods of surveys and data collection Photo-taxonomy is another important topic that is ignored by many but has good potential if used right.
At the end of the series each participant will be in a position to identify the snake they are going to rescue and use appropriate methods, will consciously rescue snakes with minimal stress, will be in a position to explain to public about reptile conservation, read and understand herpetological studies underway, may be inspired to pursue further studies themselves and above all become eco-custodians of these misunderstood creatures.
Centre for Rainforest Ecology
Authors: Sharmila & Gowri Shankar