My experiences as a young snake rescuer by Abhishek Acharya

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India has about 270 species of snakes of which 60 are venomous. My passion and dream have always been to protect snakes and their habitat. I have been drawn towards nature since childhood and was fortunate to have a father whose love for nature rubbed off on me.

As children we visited Similipal, a forest range in  Odisha, and loved the mountains, towering trees, vast open  grasslands and the crystal water of the rivulets and streams. I loved nature but feared snakes. I would lock myself in my room if a snake was found in the streets of our housing colony.

The forest area of Similipal

A terrible incident at school changed my perspective. My teachers and seniors ruthlessly killed a snake which had entered our school class room. The innocent gaze of the snake with its smashed bleeding head and its broken spine made me reflect how defenseless they were. That sight still haunts me.

That monsoon while we played football we came across many Buff Striped Keelback snakes in the grassy field. The poor creatures were always killed by my friends. It was time for someone to stand up for these poor creatures. I remember catching a Buff Striped Keelback with bare hands to show to my friends that these reptiles were innocent and harmless. I kept   the snake in a cardboard box and released it   in the nearby abundantly bushy area.

My passion for snakes led me to browse the internet to know more about snakes, and the techniques and precautions one needs to know while catching them. In fact I was now a celebrity amongst my peers who were afraid to catch live snakes.

One afternoon I got a frantic call requesting me to catch a snake which had entered my neighbor’s house. I was in Class VIII and thirteen years old. My experience so far had been confined to catching Buff Striped Keelback and Checkered Keelback which were both non venomous species. The snake in my neighbour’s house was a big, fat Spectacled Cobra. Its vigorous hissing chilled my spine. If I didn’t relocate it the people around would definitely kill it. Armed with a stick I managed to handle it. Grabbing the snake’s tail and trembling  with fear I asked for a plastic box with holes for ventilation and placed the snake securely in it to be released close by.

YES! I HAD DONE IT! Since then I have never looked back.

Drawn towards the social networking site Facebook I shared videos of my stunts with snakes and received a lot of attention from my friends. I was an overnight star in my group and also amongst strangers on FB.  One day while trying to get a perfect picture handling a rescued Spectacle Cobra, I observed that the cobra was fully tired and was unable to open its hood. I immediately placed it in the box. After sometime when I opened the box, found it dead. This incident made me realize my mistake. Due to my stupidity the snake had lost its life. I decided to never do such things again and also discourage others who do similar acts. From that day I have been careful not to stress the snakes I rescue.

Rescuing snakes is not an easy job; no matter how careful you are the fiery fangs of the snake can    strike anytime with fatal consequences.

Russell's Viper trapped in the net

About a month ago I received a call from a nearby village that a Russell’s viper has entangled itself in a plastic net. I immediately left for the spot. It was drizzling and the area was marshy. I saw the Russell’s viper and a Rat snake badly entangled in the plastic net. I grabbed the neck of the Viper, drew my knife and started cutting the entangled plastic net so that the snake could be taken out unharmed. In the process my knife got entangled in the net and the Viper slipped out of my hand. Within a fraction of a second the Viper bit my left thumb. I knew the consequences and aware that I had to rush to the hospital immediately. I also realized that the owner of the farm would kill both the snakes. Untangling my knife, I continued cutting the net, then placed the two snakes in separate boxes and rushed home on my scooty.  After keeping the boxes in my garage and requesting my cousin   to release the snakes I left for hospital.

 A battery of blood tests was conducted. I was kept under observation for about 48 hours and then discharged. Everyone was worried as though the Russell’s viper had bitten me but my test results were fine. Later it dawned that the Russell’s viper had bitten the Rat snake (which was also entangled in the net) numerous times and had perhaps temporarily exhausted its venom. I was lucky that the viper’s fangs had made a pin hole in my thumb but not injected venom.

My cousin later informed me that the Rat snake had died from the Russell’s bite. He released the rescued Russell’s viper close to where it was found.

This incident has left me with a stronger resolution to rescue snakes but with greater care. My father was right. I should work with a partner when on the field to ensure we do not repeat our mistakes. Since the bite I have been flooded with queries from experts. I have realized how much more I have to learn regarding the right technique, and precautions which one must exercise while handling venomous snakes and also the first aid to be administered in the worst case scenario of a venomous snake bite. My experience though scary will make me more mature while handling snakes in the future.

Written by Abhishek Acharya with inputs from Priyanka Kadam.

 

AUTHOR’S PROFILE

Abhishek Acharya, nick name - Samun, born and brought up at Baripada, Odisha, India. He is 16 years old and pursuing his Higher Secondary studies.

Abhishek has grown up watching his father’s dedication, love and devotion for protection of Environment and Wildlife. His exposure to forest and wildlife has been since early childhood accompanying his father to the Similipal Biosphere, which covers an area of 2750 Sq. km. and has about 1170 species of Flora and 478 species of Fauna.

Such early experiences into the lap of mother nature has taught Abhishek great lessons about the importance of Forest and Wildlife.