Mapping the Big Four of India: A study of venomous snakes to help mitigate snakebite deaths

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IndianSnakes national venomous snakes survey India snakebite initiative

Chennai/New Delhi, 28 Jan 2017: In a bid to effectively mitigate snake bite deaths in the country, the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust/Centre for Herpetology and IndianSnakes are initiating a pan-India study to map the distribution of the 'Big Four' venomous snake species that are responsible for most of the snakebite-related fatalities in India. The Big Four include the spectacled cobra (Naja naja), common krait (Bungarus caeruleus), Russell’s viper (Daboia russelii) and saw-scaled viper (Echis carinatus).

Human-snake conflict is currently the largest man-animal conflict in the country claiming over 45000 human lives annually, with virtually no count of the snake mortalities. As part of the Global Snake Bite Initiative, this year long study will be conducted by select volunteers from across the country, especially from rural areas, using a specially developed mobile application for accurate data collection which will include marking GPS locations, gathering photographic evidence, providing live feedback from the site etc. All data collected will be vetted by the India Snakebite Initiative team. The call for volunteers will be open till February 15.

“This initiative is long overdue. In order for antivenom to be equitably distributed to the places in India where snakebite is most prevalent we need to know where the snakes responsible are most common”, says renowned herpetologist Romulus Whitaker, CoFounder of Madras Crocodile Bank Trust. 

The organisations have already been working on mitigating snake bite deaths in different parts of the country through various means.

Jose Louies, Founder of IndianSnakes says, “IndianSnakes started their India Snake Bite Initiative in 2014, with a hospital in Pithora, Chhattisgarh and was able to help them successfully bring down the mortality rate by almost 100% by raising awareness about venomous and non-venomous snakes, encouraging people to come to the hospital, training the doctors and crucially, making sure that there is always adequate supply of anti-venom and a ventilator in hand to treat every bite patient that walks in. We have also initiated similar projects in other areas including Madhya Pradesh and started a 24x7 emergency pan-India WhatsApp helpline on snake identification and snake bites. In addition to all the work they already do with snakes and snake venom, Romulus and team have also come up with a great series of short films that help spread the message quite effectively.”

He adds, “However, we realised that research into the snakes itself needs to conducted simultaneously, to really understand why the conflict is so high in the first place. While we have data that tells us the broad distribution range of snakes across the country, no one has ever attempted mapping the density of venomous snakes from the whole of India. And we wanted this effort to be for the people, by the people so that there is a bigger sense of responsibility about the cause. Since there is no handling involved and only involves observational records, we encourage anyone who is familiar with snakes in any capacity - rescuer, photographer, naturalist, biologist, forest guard, student, herper- to come forward and offer their services to the project. We have already received close to 600 applications from people who want to volunteer for the survey, within 24 hours of putting it out there! This makes us really hopeful of fulfilling  our aim to reach even the remotest corners of the country to see what the population and distribution trend is for the Big Four and then at the end correlate that with the snake bite mortalities to figure effective mitigation solutions for individual areas.”

The data gathered can be used to put in place measures to prevent snake bites and retaliatory snake killings from occurring by marking the high risk areas and analysing them further to understand the precipitating factors behind the abundance in venomous snakes. With even the potency of the venom differing in the same species over different regions of the country, the medical, ecological and socio-economic benefits of such a study cannot be denied.

The form can be found here: https://docs.google.com/…/1_083srCtA_E-YQ4Kgl2_ERKmIlh…/edit

For queries, please contact the following:

Shaleen Attre, Senior Project Consultant at IndianSnakes: shaleen@indiansnakes.org