Archive for the ‘Workshops’ Category

Voices…STORM, Level One.

After the success of two batches in January and March 2012 the third batch completed level one of the STORM (Scientific Training on Reptile Management) series of workshops. Students, professionals, researchers, snake rescuers and reptile enthusiasts made up the team and a common passion for snakes and reptiles set the tone.

Here’s the enthusiastic bunch…


From left to right:
Sitting: Vinod Krishna, Richa Vyas, Kausaer parvin, Shyam’s son, Kumara Swamy, Gowri
Standing front row: Ashwini, Prakash, Snake Shyam,Vinodh, Supreeth, Veeraraj, Prashanth, Shivakumar
Standing back row: Dr. Suraj, Balaji, Frank Benjamin, HPR Prasad, Prajwal, Anne mathias, Sharath, Raghavendra, Ramprasad sampath, Anuroop, Akshaeya Ashok.


…. And this is what they have to say:


” it was a fantastic workshop, very informative and useful for all levels irrespective of whether they had any prior knowledge or experience with snakes. I have been rescuing snakes for years now and though I knew some basics, I felt the information shared was very useful and did not seem repetitive. I however felt that we should be given an opportunity to handle a venomous snake during the workshop” — Frank Benjamin, snake rescuer, Valparai,TN.


“very informative, enjoyed the rescue calls and also learnt more about behavior of snakes”

Richa, Scientist


“The workshop was very well organized, it was a perfect blend of theory and practicals”— Anne Mathias, professional


“I learnt about Do’s and Dont’s while snake handling, which I think is very vital for this profession”Kausar, MBA


“very informative, gave me confidence to take it to the next level”Veeraraj, Entrepreneur


“working with the masters like Gowri Shankar and Snake Shyam, it was an excellent experience. Learnt a lot about rescue and relocation and identification of snakes will become easier now”— Dr. Suraj, Doctor


“Liked the structure of the workshop, basics about snakes, the big 4,legal issues, first aid for snake bites, rescue & relocation, Snake Shyam was a celebrity to be with and loved the live rescue calls”Rangaprasad Sampth, Entrepreneur


” I gained good knowledge on Snake identification, scale counting particularly helped a lot”Prajwal, Software Engineer


“Excellent workshop! it helped me overcome the fear of snakes and I also got an idea how rescues can be done without causing any damage to the snake”Akshaeya Ashok, BSc Graduate



STORM: Level Two  : Captive Management of Reptiles,  is scheduled for the 10th & 11th November 2012.

STORM: Level Three: Research Methodologies,  will happen at Agumbe from the 28th to 30th December 2012.

For more details check : https://pogirigowrishankar.wordpress.com/workshops-camps/

For registration please write to info@rainforestecology.com

A fresh batch of the STORM series will begin from January 2013.


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“Best-laid plans of mice and men often go astray” there is no better way than this to explain our trip to Mizoram last month (9th to 15th August 2012). It is not called as Mysterious Mizoram for nothing! These lands of Blue Mountains welcomed and wrapped us (a bunch of 10 people) in her folds while we watched the blue skies smiling at us. Now wait it was monsoon , all of us were dressed top to toe in rain gear but a bright, sweltering sun sucked up our energies and hopes as soon as we set our foots in Aizwal. We were all dazed and exchanged helpless glances at each other.

But  Mr.H.T.Lalremsanga, professor, Department of Zoology, Mizoram University, held the key to bring smiles back on our faces. He showed his long list of rescued snakes and got us all excited:

  • Short nosed vine snake (Ahaetulla prasina),
  • Monocled Cobra (Naja kaouthia),
  • Pope’s Pit Viper (Trimeresurus popeiorum popeiorum),
  • Checkered Keelback (Xenochrophis piscator),
  • Red-necked Keelback (Rhabdophis subminiatus),
  • Green Cat Snake (Boiga cyanea)
  • Spot-tailed Pit Viper (Trimeresurus erythrurus),
  • Stoliczka’s Stripe-necked Snake (Liopeltis stoliczkae), a snake recently rediscovered in the north-east and
  • 3 juvenile king cobras (Ophiophagus hannah) from this year’s hatching

Seeing juvenile king cobras from Mizoram was a first timer for me and they looked very similar to their counterparts in the Western Ghats.

The next day we were in for more excitement at Mr.Hrima’s place. Hrima is among very few people up here who rescue and relocate snakes and is now working on bringing snake rescuers across Mizoram under one banner to ensure better reach. His set of rescued snakes comprised of:

  • Cherrapunji Keelback (Amphiesma xenura),
  • Mountain Pit Viper (Ovophis monticola),
  • Painted Bronzeback Tree Snake (Dendrelaphis pictus),
  • Green Trinket Snake (Elaphe prasina),
  • Mock Viper (Psammodynastes pulverulentus),
  • Copper-headed Trinket Snake (Coelognathus radiatus) and
  • A juvenile King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah)

1. Copper-headed Trinket Snake (Coelognathus radiatus) -Vinod Krishna | 2. Green Trinket Snake (Elaphe prasina) -Vinod Krishna | 3. Painted Bronzeback Tree Snake ( Dendrelaphis pictus)- Srihari Ananthakrishna | 4. Yellow-speckled Wolf Snake (Lycodon jara)-Vinod Krishna | 5. Mock Viper (Psammodynastes pulverulentus) -Vinod Krishna | 6. Mountain Pit Viper (Ovophis monticola)- Vinod Krishna | 7. Cherrapunji Keelback (Amphiesma xenura)- Vinod Krishna | 8. Short nosed Vine Snake (Ahaetulla prasina) -Vinod Krishna | 9. White-lipped Pit Viper (Trimeresurus albolabris)- Vinod Krishna | 10. Monocled Cobra (Naja kaouthia)- Vinod Krishna |
11. King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) -Vinod Krishna

On the third day when the rains still remained behind black clouds we decided it was time to go up the mountains with minimal gear.  We trekked up the Reiek Mountain, home for fascinating variety of hill birds. No sooner did we take our baby steps the clouds broke loose and we stood in dismay. Now this was what rains looked like in Mizoram. Trekking steep slippery slopes was a challenge and by the end of it, all of us had slipped and most fell but everyone had laughed their guts out. It was fun!

Mizoram had a knack of throwing surprises at us and probably enjoyed looking at our faces every time. Our plans to visit the Dampa Tiger reserve, Murlen National Park and the Champhai town all came crashing down with a landslide on those routes. So our next destination was a place totally unheard of, the Tamdil Lake. But this time we were glad and thanked Mizoram for her plans.

Tamdil lake nestled among towering trees was beauty unmatched.

For the next two days we explored new paths into the forest and discovered amazing life. Apart from myriads of birds, butterflies, beetles, spiders, crickets and fungi, our primary focus on snakes yielded us sightings of a Juvenile Cherrapunji Keelback (Amphiesma xenura),Red-necked Keelback (Rhabdophis subminiatus), and a Checkered keelback (Xenochrophis piscator).The highlight was witnessing a Red-necked Keelback (Rhabdophis subminiatus) hunt a frog and swallow it.

A Red-necked Keelback (Rhabdophis subminiatus) with its meal.

Travelling these picturesque hills is a pleasure but seeing road kills is not. Road kills included an Indo-chinese Rat Snake (Ptyas korros), Black Krait (Bungarus niger) and a White-barred Kukri Snake (Oligodon albocinctus).

Back in Aizwal we got to see a female Burmese python (Python molurus bivittatus) at a friend’s place and a Yellow-speckled Wolf Snake (Lycodon jara) at Hrima’s place.

Burmese Python (Python molurus bivittatus)

On our way back to the airport we witnessed an accident where a motorcycle dashed into a jeep. Believe it or not none of the drivers raised their voice or bad mouthed the other and there was no commotion whatsoever. All they did was clearly marked the accident spot, each one called their bosses and settled things peacefully.  This is an attitude that everybody all over India need to learn and emulate. Women here seemed to be far more enterprising and managed most business centers. I personally felt that Mizoram seemed to have a fairly advanced society compared to other states in our country.

The Gang

I want to specially thank H.T.Lalremsanga, Siama, Hrima, Lindaji (a multitalented celebrity and extremely kind lady who is a model, rescues snakes and a great singer), for their help and support, Saipari Sailo who took us shopping in Bara Bazaar and all my friends who rolled up their sleeves for all our unplanned adventures.

We bid good bye to amazing Mizoram towns and watched life go by with guys on roads, their T shirts folded up till their chest washing their super cool bikes, stylish carefree ladies walking along, and kids playing on road sides.

A very different life style, very lovely and hospitable people, interesting cuisines, extremely rich wildlife and wonderful landscapes, all this made our trip to Mizoram one of the most memorable one…once again.

We will be back next year and I am sure more surprises awaits us!

Authors: Sharmila & Gowri Shankar

Acknowledgement: Ashwini VM

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The Deluge Begins…

Agumbe is famed for its monsoons…and it is here in all its glory! What started  as intermittent light showers has now turned into a relentless downpour which is all set to last the next four to five months. The forest is alive and a buzz with activity.

Centre for rainforest ecology and Darter photography captured the onset of this splendorous monsoon last week during a three day ‘Agumbe Rainforest Photography workshop’. Treks, nature walks and night walks to explore the forests, a panoramic view from Kundadri(the highest point in Agumbe), and a humbling experience at Doddamane (where the tele-serial ‘Malgudi days’ was shot) made it a wholesome experience for all of us.

Every time we walked, we explored more and more. Fungi and insects were amongst the most diverse and bowing down under the heavy downpour to find snakes, tackling leeches that were literally blood thirsty was the most thrilling of all!

These photographs by participants speak beauty, check them out…

Mist shrouds the mountains just before the next spell…

Fungi are among the first to show up. Coprinus disseminatus

…and then it is fungi fungi everywhere!  Photos by: Vinod Krishna

Not only do these frogs show up they announce their presence with a grand symphony

Check out the Pictorial Guide to Frogs and Toads of the Western Ghats by Dr. K. V. Gururaja fromhttp://shop.gubbilabs.in!

Signature species of frog in Agumbe during the monsoons..                                                                         Malabar gliding frog (Rhacophorus malabaricus)

Not far behind are the snakes….                                                                                                                      Green Vine Snake(Ahaetulla nasuta)

Malabar Pit Viper (Trimeresurus malabaricus). These snakes come in different morphs.

Within 24 hours, two different morphs of Malabar pit vipers presented themselves to us !

Check out the pit!

Beddome’s Keelback (Amphiesma beddomei) : Photo by Vinod Krishna

Forest Lizard (Calotes ellioti)

From cicada’s to wasps,  insects are among the most diverse creatures in a rain forest.  Though we could recognize only a few we were lucky to sight and  capture these…

Beautifully red!


Crabs were all over

Tents amidst the forest, the best refuge to enjoy monsoons to the fullest!

Dodda mane: Old house, traditional customs, sumptuous food, warm welcome…cant help but make one nostalgic!  Photo by: Karthik Ramaswamy

These were few insights from a talented group. If you would like to join and experience this you’ve got to be here…..and now!

Check out upcoming workshops & camps: https://pogirigowrishankar.wordpress.com/workshops-camps/

Authors: Sharmila & Gowri Shankar

Acknowledgements: Ashwini VM, Shreeram,Vinod Krishna, Srihari Ananthakrishna, Santhosh Krishnamoorthy, Karthik Ramaswamy

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Gowri Shankar and Snake Shyam

Date: 28 and 29th of Jan 2012. Place Mysore

Conducted by P. Gowri Shankar and Snake Shyam

Every professional is bound to tackle a set of FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) and so do I. Questions such as ‘Aren’t you scared?’, ‘What should I do when I see a snake?’, ‘I want to handle snakes, will you teach me?’ and ‘Will you allow me to touch a king cobra?’ ! ; followed by a tale of “One day I saw a snake…….” Then there are ‘snake rescuers’ who exude great confidence, some out of right knowledge some due to ignorance, who of course can do better with a push in the right direction. Hence this one of a kind workshop took shape to answer all these questions and more.  The aim was to address basic ethics and right techniques of rescue, relocation and captive management of snakes.

The workshop attracted people from diverse backgrounds from full time snake rescuers, PhD students, software professionals, wildlife biologists, to photographers. Their reasons to enrol was just as diverse, some wanted to act instead of being mute spectators to snake killings, some who had handled non-venomous snakes  now wanted to start rescuing venomous ones and few others who had already rescued venomous snakes  wanted to get trained professionally.

Drill before the grill

We kick started the day with an introductory session on snakes. As all participants had filled out a questionnaire prior to the workshop it helped in understanding their levels. We then delved deep into topics on rescue, relocation and captive management.

‘Rescuing snakes’ is a very subjective term, and the way I interpret is in the interest and welfare of the snake more than anything else. Hence a point that I stressed very heavily was to ‘NOT CATCH SNAKES BY THE NECK’ unless absolutely necessary (in cases when other methods are actually stressing the snake or when there is absolutely no time to try other methods). I have seen snakes caught by neck refusing to eat for several days and one king cobra did not accept food for 95 days. Though catching by neck may give an adrenaline rush and display heroism it does more harm to the snake and risks the rescuer’s life!

Demonstrating how to use a snake hook

Hence we discussed other effective methods like ‘Butterfly net’ capture techniques, baggers, pipe and bag technique introduced by snake rescuer Anees Mohammed(from Bangalore).

The Bagger Technique

We then introduced snake hooks, baggers, snake bags (various sizes for different species) and showed how to use, clean, and keep them handy.

Not many realize that the first phone call to rescue a snake is the best opportunity for the rescuer to gather as much information, brief about steps they need to take and calm the caller. If practiced well it can save lot of time, effort and energy.

Attending live rescue calls was a pioneering idea that I conceptualized and it turned out to be a showstopper of the workshop.  Each rescue call is unique, understanding the perspective of the caller, public, rescuers and figuring out how to retrieve a snake from unique situations is what I hoped every participant would learn ;And doing this with the master himself is like icing on the cake.  Snake Shyam is an expert who has rescued and documented rescue data of over 22,000 snakes. One can imbibe a great deal from just watching him. Omer Kaiser from XTrails Expeditions http://www.xtrailsexpeditions.in/mtb.html  was kind enough to sponsor a vehicle and everyone got a chance to witness Snake Shyam handle the rescue operation.

At the rescue site, discussing methods to retrieve a snake

We rescued a sand boa and a cobra on the two calls that we attended. He made sure all understood the basic ethic of ‘NOT CATCHING AND/OR TRANSLOCATING A SNAKE IF IT COULD BE SAFELY LEFT WHERE IT IS FOUND’. He also showed how one could use this opportunity to educate public about snakes and encourage them to understand and tolerate snakes around. As Rom says “A big part of the problem could be resolved by teaching people to identify snakes and to tolerate, or even encourage the non-venomous varieties to stick around.”

Identifying snakes is very crucial for any snake handler. Participants were taught safe methods of identification through scale counts using restraining tubes and encouraged to use field books.

Participants engrossed in learning the scale count method of identifying snakes

 It is quite ironic that many rescuers still have fancy explanations when asked about the sex of the snake. I was once asked by the director of a zoo, ‘Why are these snakes not breeding even after keeping them together for two years?’, and when I sexed them I found both to be males! He got his answer. Though there is sexual dimorphism in few snakes it requires one to be trained to identify. Hence sexing the snake is very important but at the same time should be done very carefully.

Soon after the rescue many rescuers bring rescued snakes home and keep them for reasons which are more absurd than reasonable; like, calling friends and relatives to take a look, pose for pictures and some really weird excuses stating the snake’s (a common cobra’s or a rat snake’s)tail is too thin …so may be a new species! All snakes are protected under the Wildlife Act, two pythons and egg-eating snake are listed under Schedule I; the king cobra, common cobra, Russell’s viper, rat snake, dog-faced water snake, checkered keelback, and olive keelback under Schedule II and the rest fall under Schedule IV. In other words no snake can be caught, kept or translocated without the permission from the Forest Department.

Session on captive management

If a snake rescuer has been identified and granted permission to rescue and keep snakes, he should be trained in captive management of snakes. This demands good understanding of the species and an uncompromising attitude towards proper care.

Participants cleaning up terrariums

One needs to keep in mind that rescued snakes should be brought to captivity only if its condition is serious enough to warrant medical intervention and if the condition is too serious then it is best left to the veterinarian to attend to the snake. Participants were shown how to shift snakes, feeding protocols to follow, cleaning and maintaining terrariums.

This workshop has been a breakthrough and people across the country have come forward to collaborate to conduct such camps in their respective states. Gerry Martin http://www.gerrymartin.in/workshops.html) from Bangalore and Nirmal Kulkarni (http://goawildwatch.blogspot.com) from Goa already conduct herpetology camps and workshops which are good avenues for interested individuals. More such professional workshops will prove as a boon for rescuers and snakes.

Sitting: Snake Shyam; Standing: Shankar, Laurel ,Chaitanya,Gowri Shankar, Madhusudhan Shukla, Shivu,Arun Singh, Prashanth,Vinay, Omar,Anwar ; On the jeep: Mahesh, Snake Shyam's son, Jagadeesh, Ashwini, Pooja,Suhas, Vijay; Not in picture: Barkha, Suresh DN, Shashank, Nagendra, Anand, Sonu,Yagnesh

I believe, promoting right knowledge to right people at the right time will foster right attitudes towards snake rescue and relocation!

Acknowledgement: Thanks to Shivu and Prashanth for their support during the workshop.

Next workshop:

@ Mysore  on the   31st  March & 1st April 2012

If you are interested please write to me at :



  • Das, A., Nair, M.V., Gosh, S. and Mahanta, N. 2005. Protocol followed for rehabilitation of Burmese rock pythons (Python murlurus bivitatus) in Assam state zoo. In: Back to the Wild: Studies in wildlife rehabilitation. Ed: Vivek, M., Ashraf, NVK, Panda, PP. and Mainkar, K. Wildlife Trust of India, New Delhi.
  • IUCN, 2002. IUCN Guidelines for the Placement of Confiscated Animals. Prepared by the IUCN/SSC Re-introduction Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge,
  • Miller, E.A. (Ed.), 2000. Minimum standards for wildlife rehabilitation. International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council and National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association, St. Cloud, MN. 77 pages.
  • Shine, R. and Koenig, J. 2001. Snakes in the garden: An analysis of ‘reptiles’ rescued by community-based wildlife carers. Biological Conservation. 102: 271-283
  • White, J. 1993. Basic Wildlife Rehabilitation (Editor: Louse Shimmel). International Wildlife Rehabilitation. C.A. pp 1-10.
  • http://data.iucn.org/dbtw-wpd/edocs/2002-004.pdf
  • Warrel, David A. Guidelines for the management of snake-bites
  • Notes on rescue capture and translocation of snakes for WTI workshop Kaziranga, Assam, February, 2008, Rom Whitaker.
  • Follow the IUCN protocol on the placement of confiscated animals for an appropriate decision on the resolution of snakes confiscated from charmers and traders (IUCN, 2002).

Authors: Sharmila & Gowri Shankar

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