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Check out an article about our workshop- STORM (Scientific Training on Reptile Management) in Deccan Herald today.

 

Sharmila & Gowri Shankar

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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!

Wasp

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

Radio telemetry as a tool used for wildlife research has proven to be very effective in understanding the secretive lives of the animals being studied. The first ever radio telemetry study on snakes in India was initiated in 2008 at the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station, Agumbe, Karnataka. King Cobras (Ophiophagus hannah) were surgically implanted with radio transmitters and released back into wild. A team of research associates, volunteers along with field trackers followed the snake every day and recorded data.

Training and working under the guidance of Rom and Matt was a great learning experience for me. Every stage of the project brought with it its own set of challenges and rewards. From working with the forest department for permits, assessing rescued king cobras fit for this study, assisting the team with the surgery, organizing field trackers, identifying and training volunteers, managing local support and press, supervising and assisting the team on field to ensure each day goes smooth was quite a handful; But listening to the day’s findings every evening was worth it!

This work was recently published by the Environmental Information System Centre in their ENVIS BULLETIN Wildlife and Protected Areas as part of their issue focusing on ‘TELEMETRY IN WILDLIFE SCIENCE’. The complete issue can be accessed at: http://www2.wii.gov.in/envis/telemetry/index.html.

Below is the abstract from our paper.

ABSTRACT

Over the past five decades, radiotelemetry has become an increasingly important tool in wildlife field research, providing researchers with the ability to follow individual animals as they live out their often secretive lives.  Radiotelemetry studies of snakes have enabled researchers to determine an impressive array of important ecological parameters, including home range characteristics, the fate of translocated animals, location of den sites, and documentation of behaviours in the field that would otherwise be extremely difficult to observe.  Here, we present data from the first-ever field study of King Cobras (Ophiophagus hannah, Cantor, 1836) in their natural habitat in the rainforests of Agumbe in Karnataka, South India. Although we have obtained critical data on King Cobra spatial ecology that will ultimately lead to recommendations on how to better conserve these charismatic serpents, of equal or greater interest is documentation of a wealth of King Cobra behaviours that have never been observed in the wild. We discuss radiotelemetry and summarize yet-to-be published results of this pioneering study of the world’s largest venomous snake. We also discuss our efforts to use our data to develop educational programs aimed at local communities, and our ultimate goal of establishing the first-ever sanctuary with a snake as the flagship species.

The complete paper is downloadable and may be used for non-commercial purposes with due acknowledgement.

DOWNLOAD: Application of Radiotelemetry Techniques in Snake Research: King Cobra .

Authors: Sharmila & Gowri Shankar

Cobras to Crocs

When knowledge is made progressive it opens up avenues for growth. This is exactly what I wanted for participants of my workshops so that their learning does not stagnate. Participants from the rescue and relocation workshop (conducted at Mysore in Jan and March 2012) joined me to the Centre for Herpetology, Madras Crocodile Bank Trust (MCBT) on the 12th and 13th May. The idea was to help them explore the world of reptiles, understand the bigger picture of captive management and appreciate skills of the Irulas.

Though May is not the best of times to hit the east coast, the enthusiasm of our participants shamed the sweltering sun! Gayathri Selvaraj, education officer at MCBT took the group on an interactive tour where she spoke about the eighteen different species of crocodiles housed here and patiently answered all queries.

Things got very exciting when the director of MCBT, Collin a herpetologist himself spoke about ‘Crocodile biology’. His presentation skill with a great sense of humour was much appreciated by the participants.

With over 30 years of experience in housing crocodiles and snakes, MCBT is ‘THE’ place in India to study and understand captive management of reptiles. We observed the unique designs of different crocodile pens made to suit habits of each species. It was interesting to note the provisions made for basking, nesting, clean water, right kind of plants, and shade to rest. Being cold blooded, crocodiles need to regulate their body temperature and unless the right temperature and humidity is made available their survival is impacted.

Madras Crocodile bank serves as a gene pool for crocodiles. Hence captive breeding is an ongoing activity.

Dr. Gowri Mallapur , Asst. Director, explained the importance of regulating and checking the growth of hatchlings at fixed intervals.

Participants got a chance to weigh, measure the total length and snout vent length of Siamese crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis) hatchlings. This data was then meticulously recorded to be stored in their database.

Crocodiles in the wild are opportunistic feeders. They usually feed once every 7- 10 days (depending on the size of their previous feed) and are known to last for days without food. A 15 ft crocodile can go without food for almost a year! At Croc bank they are fed twice a week with beef and fish.

Participants watched Jaws III, the largest captive salt water crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) in Asia feed on chunks of meat.

Participants then watched the reticulated python (Python reticulatus) feed on rats. These snakes are the longest snakes in the world (growing up to 11 meters) and in the wild their major diet comprise of birds and small mammals. Their bulky bodies give an impression of being sluggish but it is during feeding that one can actually observe their agility and speed. Quickly grabbing their prey, coiling around it and then slowly swallowing the meal is a true exhibit of their wild feeding instincts.

It was now time for everyone to get their hands dirty and to get to the task of cleaning mugger pens. This activity not only helped in understanding the aesthetics of managing a pen but also created a sense of appreciation for the work that MCBT has been doing for years.

The night safari at the croc bank is as good as star gazing! It is a sparkling wonder when over 300 eyes glint under torch light. Eye shines serve as the best cues while surveying and capturing crocodiles in the wild. Apart from eye shines participants also spotted a rat snake and a vine snake within the campus.

After a high dose of crocodile gyan it was now the turn of  snakes.

Being snake enthusiasts everyone woke up excitedly at 5 in the morning and joined the Irula tribe on a snake walk.

The Irulas were local hunters and gatherers. Traditionally they hunted mongoose, monitor lizards, birds, paddy rats and snakes. The tribe’s skill in locating snakes and monitor lizards were exploited by skin industries till late 70s. After the ban by Government on wildlife products, their activities were considered illegal. They however continued to smoke rats from burrows as rats form a major part of their diet. That’s the time Romulus and Zai Whitaker setup the Irula snake cooperative society to extract venom from the big four of India. [Common cobra(Naja naja), Russell’s Viper(Daboia russelii), Saw scaled viper(Echis carinatus), Krait (Bungarus caeruleus)] for anti venom production.

Along with Kali, an Irula, we walked through paddy fields, villages, and scrub jungles.

And during our three hour walk we found seven snakes. Two bronze back tree snakes(Dendrelaphis tristis), one green vine snake (Ahaetulla nasuta),  two Indian rat snakes (Ptyas mucosa), a common cobra(Naja naja) and a striped keel back (Amphiesma stolatum). The best part was the accuracy in spotting them. Participants noted down the macro and micro habitats, the scientific names of the snakes found, the location they were spotted at, and signs used to locate these snakes in their data sheets.

It was time for unwinding at the beach and then for reflection.

What started as just basic learning about snakes, scale counts, and snake rescue now progressed into a deeper understanding of the reptilian world. This awareness I hope will create a deeper passion, a thirst for knowledge and hence a greater commitment from these enthusiasts for conservation.

Our next journey is into the deep jungles of the rainforests in Agumbe where we will brave the monsoons and herp through challenging terrains to find herps in their habitat. Come July (6th to 8th) we all meet again. Until then adios team!

PS: For more info about camps please check the Upcoming workshops & camps page.

Authors: Sharmila & Gowri Shankar

Acknowledgements: Ashwini VM, Ramanan, Shishir Rao

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 :

gowrishankar.pogiri@gmail.com

References:

  • 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

Wishing all readers a happy new year!

A new beginning…

I sincerely apologize to all who follow this blog for a late update. I hope the excitement will come alive as you read about king cobra hatchings of 2011.

A King cobra nest is nothing short of a wonder. King cobras build their nests using dead leaves which they pack so tight to stand tough against the heavy downpours that lash for months. Our studies in the Western Ghats reveal that hatching happens between July end and mid-august. The average incubation period varies between 100 to 113 days and once the hatchings emerge they remain close to the nest surviving on the remnants of the yolk. There is no parental care and after 3-4 days they shed (molt) and disperse to fend for themselves. Hence these baby king cobras possess enough venom to start hunting from day one. Though they can hood up and deliver fatal bites many fall prey to a variety of predators and it is approximated that only one or two reach adult hood.

As part of our research we typically measure, weigh, identify the sex and then release the hatchings back to wild.(Prashanth and me with forest officials and press in 2009)

In 2011 we received reports of six king cobra nests in Agumbe and four nests in Mizoram. In Agumbe, the inherent reverence among people and our efforts in the past to build trust and confidence has made people more receptive, accommodative and tolerant towards king cobra nests. And now that there is a team at ARRS trained to monitor nests and collect data, this year I decided to concentrate on nests at Mizoram.

As soon as we heard about nests in Mizoram I was off to check them out and gather data. I have always admired Rom’s style of ‘throwing the hat of the fence’ and then decide how to collect it.

Mizoram calling...

Irrespective of lack of funds, resources, resource people, logistics, we started off with nest monitoring at Mizoram. And yes things slowly fell in place! Big thanks to funds donated by Late. Luke Yeomans of the King Cobra Sanctuary, Nottingham and ARRS. I reached Mizoram in the first week of July and with help from HT, Hrima, and Siama (folks at Mizoram involved and interested in herps especially king cobras) we set forth on the first leg of this project. Siama, an MSc graduate from Mizoram University joined us as a research associate to help in data collection.

Challenging terrains

We first visited Sailum.  These hilly regions with steep terrains are quite a challenge. We had to trek on slippery slopes cutting through thorny bamboo under continuous drizzle for over two hours to reach the nest that was hardly 1/2km from the village.

Nest at Mizoram...my first sighting (a dream come true)

However the arduous climb was worth it as we saw the female king cobra on the nest. We noted down the temperature, humidity, nest height and width, took down GPS readings and left immediately.

The following day we visited Phunchawng, a village 15km from Aizawl.  We then visited Saitual another village and with David’s (school teacher) help located the third nest. However, we could not visit the fourth nest as it was not accessible due to heavy rains.

A village enroute to a king cobra nest

These nests were spotted by people who ventured deep inside the forest to collect Bamboo shoots, a staple diet. All these nests were built on slopes (~45 degrees), within bamboo thickets and using Bamboo leaves (Dendrocalamus longispathus). Apparently during the nesting season HT and Hrima receive at least 10 rescue calls to remove females on nests in and around Aizawl.

It was very disturbing to learn that some people use this as an opportunity to hunt these snakes (more like an organized sport) too!

Female king cobras in Mizoram are known to guard their nests for longer periods almost till the hatchings emerge and even after interference/disturbance by humans they return and continue guarding them.  But! in Agumbe of the 16 nests that we have monitored, females usually leave the nest after 2-3 weeks (of laying eggs) and never return ; esp. if there has been any human disturbance. The maximum number of days that I have seen the female on the nest in Agumbe is 32 days.

At Mizoram the females on these nests were present till the 26th of July, 30th of July, and the 24th of August respectively. The hatching took place 2-4 days after the females left. Out of a total of 60 eggs, 57 hatchings were recorded from these three nests.

A hatchling moves out of the nest

Back at Agumbe, Prashant, Base Supervisor who has assisted me for years in monitoring king cobra nests helped our new research associate, Ajay Giri in monitoring six nests this year. Out of  a total of 144 eggs, 97 hatched.

It is indeed a long tough road for these young kings. How many make it to adult hood, what are their food preferences, what strategies they adopt to survive, how often they shed (molt), what resting places they prefer etc., still remains to be answered.  Another avenue yet to be explored and studied!

A long road ahead!

Authors : Sharmila & Gowri Shankar

Edited by : Shweta Harish

Way back in 2002, it was my good friend (Late.)Raju who sparked my interest to explore the Eastern Ghats for King Cobras. But this idea lay dormant till I met a few volunteers from KANS (Kenneth Anderson Nature Society: http://www.kans.org.in) who introduced me to Mr.Ramanamurthy, Director, Green Mercy. Green Mercy is an NGO at Srikakulum District that has been rescuing and rehabilitating domestic and wild animals for over 15 years now. That is how my trail led me to Vizianagaram, Andhra Pradesh this time.

The Eastern Ghats beckons

King cobras hold a special charm and have lured me as far as I can remember but to say Andhra Pradesh has probably charmed me much before is not an exaggeration. As a child I spent my summer holidays here and hold many pleasurable memories that I cherish.  One such memory is of my uncles narrating descriptive stories of how tribals secretly lived in the mountains and descended once in a while to shop. This created a sense of mystery which I was so eager to solve. I was finally here with the same mystical and adventuristic feeling to exclusively look for king cobras and maybe encounter the tribes too.

Between 2009 and 2011 three king cobras were reportedly killed in Srikakulam District. My plan was to visit these places to check the habitat, meet witnesses, understand people’s perception and fathom the gravity of the situation.

Interacting with a local along with Mr.Ramanamurthy(sporting a cap) and KLN Murthy(holding a bag)

We zeroed in on Seethampeta and Gangammapeta, where the kings were killed earlier. These villages are part of the Eastern Ghats that stretch up to Orissa. The terrain is a mixture of mountains and plains.

A news clipping of the king cobra killed in April 2011

First, we visited Gangammapeta where a king was killed just months ago in April 2011. Another king cobra was reportedly killed in 2009 at the same place.

I was eager to get first hand information and waited to speak to people who were involved in the act. This meant I needed to win their confidence. My knowledge of the local language and mentioning about my family’s association (My mom’s village is just 8km from here) with the place did the trick.

People readily opened up and narrated the story quite enthusiastically. I was told that the snake was spotted moving along a fence and then moved into a building used to store firewood and had coiled up.

The dilapidated building where the king had sought refuge

A huge snake such as this certainly attracts attention and within minutes the whole village had gathered to watch it. The king cobra obviously panicked and moved out of the building and that was when this 12 footer was killed with a stick and later burnt.

A sad story for me but a heroic one for many there! However I was happy that they agreed not to kill the next time they see one and instead call for rescue.

Our next stop was at Seethampeta where a king was killed in 2009. I did not get a chance to meet the people here but visited the Government Science College in Srikakulam where the Green Mercy team had preserved the specimen in formalin. I had hoped to collect a sample from this for DNA analysis. And this meant I needed some formalin. Our look out for this chemical turned out to be one hilarious and memorable event that day.

We had already checked more than eight pharmaceuticals in town and were turned down saying they did not have any such ‘ointment’ or ‘tonic’! We finally came to ‘Venu’s Surgical’ a well stocked pharmaceutical in town. I waited in the car while KLN Murthy (a MSc graduate with good knowledge about the natural history of the place who joined me on this trip along with Mr.Ramanamurthy) approached them. We were lucky that they stocked it but being a restricted drug they refused to sell it over the counter. They brushed Murthy off and remained glued to the TV watching ‘Secrets of the King Cobra’ translated in Telugu! Our man, Murthy immediately asked if they would sell him the chemical if he introduced the person in that documentary (‘Me’) to them. They obviously thought this guy was crazy and agreed. He then asked me to come over. Totally unaware I went ahead and then saw what the term ‘jaw drop’ meant! Not only were they shocked, thrilled and excited to talk to me they happily sold us the formalin that night. A memorable incident which will stay with us all our lives. The king at the college looked quite big and I felt his head was much bigger than that of an average sized king found in Agumbe.

King cobra killed at Seethampeta in 2009

I was not lucky enough to see a live one during this visit. Until now we believed that king cobras preferred areas with heavy rainfall and high humidity but this visit changed this perception altogether. It would be very interesting to study how kings survive under these dry climatic conditions and in shrub forests.

Areas where king cobras have been sighted

Before leaving, I met Mr. Thayoub, Deputy Conservator Forests, a very courteous and enthusiastic gentleman. Looking at the enthusiasm of the forest department, people and with support from NGOs like Green Mercy, we are very keen to initiate projects in the coming year.

Authors: Sharmila & Gowri Shankar

Edited by: Shweta Harish