Snakes! Sacred or scared; these two thoughts are the ones that usually cross many people’s minds when they hear the word ‘snake’! While there are a whole lot who revere this reptile, there are hundreds more who are petrified of them; some don’t even know why they are scared of them! But snakes have more to fear from us, then us from them. They are considered by many as perhaps the most dreadful of all creatures in this world. Many a times, fear about snakes prevails due to the total ignorance about these graceful, agile and useful beings.
What many do not realize is that snakes are a very important link in the whole eco system as they control the population of pests, thus helping people. Though sometimes dangerous, snakes can be useful, and, as any living creature, they have the right to exist. Striving to create awareness about such facts and more in the city is the Friends of Snakes Club (Registered Society), founded by Rajkumar Kanuri.
‘Snake Man of Hyderabad’ - Rajkumar Kanuri
It was a bright sunny day, early in the morning of 14th October 2010 when I had ventured out to meet Rajkumar Kanuri to know more about him and the Friends of Snakes Club. After a long drive deep into Sainikpuri I reached the place. And there he was! Busily discussing the nitty-gritty details of the snake that they had just rescued from a nearby locality! A man in the midst of what he loved doing best, he seemed as comfortable dealing with snakes as a fish would be with water.
Seeing my seven-year-old daughter accompanying me, he said with a big smile, “It’s good to start them young.” “That’s how it all started for me too,” he said, recounting his early encounters with a snake and a statement that made a big difference in his life.
It all began when as a 10-year-old he questioned the killing of a snake near his house, to which he got a sarcastic reply from the man who was killing it, saying that he could take it home if he wanted to. “I just decided to take it,” he said emphatically. Thus, began the sojourn of rescuing snakes and releasing them in their natural habitat, for this man who is considered as one of India’s best known ophiologists.
Narrating an incident about his childhood he said, “Even as a kid, people would always call me to catch snakes in and around their house. I would catch them and hand them over to the zoo.” He was born with the talent of dealing with snakes, the way few would ever know how! He knew the art of capturing snakes and handled them as gently as we handle newborn babies. Protecting them from people, he dedicated all his life for snakes.
Pamula Raju (snake Raju), was the alias given to him, when he was still a kid. Later in 1995 he turned founder and formed the Friends of Snakes Club in Sainikpuri with other like-minded individuals; and with great help from Amala Akkineni (chief patron), Animal Welfare Activist. Raj’s adventures with the slithery but largely misunderstood creatures also featured in Paul Merton’s popular television series on India.
Raj who was always ready to hold demonstrations for anyone who was interested in knowing about snakes, survived 29 snake bites, including that of a Cobra and a Viper which cost him his two fingers. Once he even had to be given 23 doses of anti-venom to save his life! Nevertheless, he was particularly fond of the King Cobra.
Having been the Honorary Wildlife Warden for the past eight years, it made the process easy for Raj to get things done smoothly. He would attend at least 30 calls a month to rescue snakes in the twin cities and had done about 3,000 rescues and 4,000 educational demonstrations across the country. He was trained in Pune Snake Park and Bronx Zoo in the US. His society is involved in spreading awareness on snakes apart from rescuing and rehabilitating the reptiles.
About ‘Friends of Snakes Club’
Friends of Snakes! The unaware might be surprised to hear ‘Friends of Snakes’ wondering how one can be friends with snakes? But a small set of people in a part of our city have and are slowly but effectively working towards their endeavour of creating a peaceful environment, both for man and snake!
Sainikpuri is the place to which the first-of-its-kind conservation society ‘Friends of Snakes Club’ can trace back its origins to. The society works towards spreading awareness, rescue and rehabilitation of snakes, and has successfully generated interest among a plethora of people about snakes, eradicating age old myths and misconceptions about them. In a constant endeavour to protect these gravely misunderstood reptiles, the society gives educational demonstrations using live snakes in villages, educational institutions, corporate offices, social meetings, community centers and children’s camps, etc., organised by the Andhra Pradesh Forest Department under the eco-tourism program. These demonstrations not only help create the much-needed awareness but also help raise funds, which is a constant concern for them. The rescue center works 24/7 attending to situations where a snake crosses path with a human, putting each other in danger. It has 30 active members and 150 other members who help in the society’s cause.
All the members volunteer for their programs and are budding ophiologists themselves. The common goal is to create a fully aware society where snakes needn’t be killed at sight but can be rescued and rehabilitated so as to ensure a rational co-existence between snakes and humans, for a far more successful eco-sphere.
Speaking about the unawareness of people in the city earlier, Raj said, “There is a 1972 Wildlife Law that says that snakes are protected. But people are not aware or educated about it. The Forest Department is conducting Nature Walks at Chilkur, KBR Park, Vanasthalipuram and Shamirpet areas which is helping greatly in creating a wider audience,” and added, “The snake shows and nature walks are a good learning for children as young as 10 since it imbibes the respect and love for another being in them, early in life.” “Old superstitions are wearing off,” he said and added with great concern, “But not to the extent that it should.”
The society’s efforts in creating awareness has worked to a great extent, proof enough is the fact that every month the society rescues about 150 to 200 snakes and they are then released into the Reserve Forest Blocks recommended by the Forest Department. Another fact is that unlike earlier, people now call the rescue center rather than killing snakes. “Awareness has increased to a great extent in Hyderabad and the incidence of killing has come down drastically,” said Raj and added that, “People do not kill the snakes anymore. Instead they call us.”
Due to the large numbers, the reptiles are released after spending a week at the society premises, rather than the 48-hour time block that the members would like to restrict it to. The rescue vehicle that they have, was given by Maneka Gandhi on behalf of the Government of India a couple of years ago, and is the only one that they have to help them in their mission. “That too is showing signs of its age and is not in a very great condition, but that is the only one that we have as of now,” said
Raj and added, “We need more funds to make the job easier.”
Celebrity endorsement is clearly not what this club thrives on. Actor Sai Kiran, one of the more active members and the Vice President of the club, comes across in conversation as a wildlife enthusiast foremost and not just an actor lending his name part-time. Sai who joined the society a decade back says, “Celebrity quotient helps in our film crazy state, especially in the villages, so when they call me for some inauguration etc., I try and couple it with a snake demonstration to help create awareness,” and adds that though things are improving, help from other quarters like the corporates could really help.
Snakes in Hyderabad Among the snakes found in India, hardly 2% are poisonous. Of the 274 species found in India, there are only four potentially dangerous snakes that venture into human habitation and they are referred to as the ‘Big Four’ and can be found in and around Hyderabad also. They are the Russell’s viper, Common Cobra, Common Krait and Saw-scaled viper, and the rest are largely harmless.
About 180 are non-venomous and about 94 of them are technically venomous. About 34 of these venomous snakes do not have venom potent enough to kill a human being and by and large are considered harmless. About 20 of the rest are sea snakes that have high venom toxicity but since they live mostly in the sea, they are not a potential threat. 36 of the dangerously venomous snakes are rare, therefore human casualties from them are by far ruled out.
From warm seas to semi-deserts, swamps, lakes and even the Himalayan glaciers, one can find snakes in almost all the habitats in India. The snakes of India range from Worm Snakes about 10 cm in length, to the King Cobra measuring up to 5.6 m.
Identifying the Big Four
Cobra (also called Indian Cobra or Spectacled Cobra):
It is responsible for causing the most snakebite cases in India. This snake is revered in Indian mythology and culture and is often seen with snake charmers. It is now protected in India under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act (1972).
On the rear of the snake’s hood are two circular ocelli patterns connected by a curved line, evoking the image of spectacles. An average cobra is about 1.9 meters (6 feet) in length and rarely as long as 2.4 meters (nearly 8 feet). The most distinctive and impressive characteristic of the Indian cobra is the hood which is formed by raising the anterior portion of the body and spreading some of the ribs in the neck region when the snake is threatened.
This snake is highly venomous and is a nocturnal snake. The body colour varies from a dark steely blue-black to a pale faded bluish grey. The average length is 1 meter. The male is larger than the female and also has a longer tail. The males aggressively maintain territories. Kraits also only bite during the night, unless disturbed during the day.
Russell's Viper (also called Chain Viper or Indian Russell's Viper):
It is a venomous viper species and also one of the species which are responsible for causing the most snakebite cases in the world. The species was named in honour of Dr. Patrick Russell (1726-1805), who had earlier described this animal.
The head is flattened, triangular and distinct from the neck. The snout is blunt, rounded and raised. The nostrils are large, in the middle of a large, single nasal scale. The crown of the head is covered with irregular, strongly fragmented scales. The eyes are large, flecked with yellow or gold.
When threatened they form a series of S-loops, raise the first third of the body and produce a hiss that is supposedly louder than that of any other snake. When striking from this position, they can exert so much force that even a large individual can lift most of its body off the ground in the process. These snakes are strong and agile and react violently to being picked up. The bite may be a snap, or, they may hang on for many seconds.
Saw-Scaled Viper (also called Indian Saw-Scaled Viper or Little Indian Viper):
It is the smallest member of the Big Four snakes. Size ranges between 38 and 80 cm in length, but usually no more than 60 cm. The colour-pattern consists of a pale buff, greyish, reddish, olive or pale brown ground colour. This species is mostly crepuscular and nocturnal. During the daytime they hide in all kinds of places, such as deep mammal burrows, rock fissures and fallen rotted logs. In sandy environments, they may bury themselves leaving only the head exposed. Often, they are most active after rains or on humid nights.
Its characteristic pose, a double coil with a figure of eight, with the head poised in the center, permits it to lash out like a released spring. They move about mainly by side-winding: a method at which they are considerably proficient and alarmingly quick.
What To Do In Case Of Snake Bite?
First Aid Treatment Protocol of W.H.O:
Of primary importance is the need to recommend the most effective first aid for victims, to enable them to reach the nearest medical facility in the best possible condition. Much of the first-aid currently carried out is ineffective and dangerous. The first aid method being currently recommended for India is based around the mnemonic: “Do it R.I.G.H.T.”
It consists of the following:
R. = Reassure the patient. 70% of all snakebites are from non-venomous species. Only 50% of bites by venomous species actually envenomate the patient.
I. = Immobilize in the same way as a fractured limb. Use bandages or cloth to hold the splints, not to block the blood supply or apply pressure. Do not apply any compression in the form of tight ligatures, they don’t work and can be dangerous!
G. H. = Get to Hospital immediately. Traditional remedies have ‘No Proven’ benefit in treating snakebite.
T. = Tell the doctor of any systemic symptoms such as ptosis that manifest on the way to hospital.
This method will get the victim to the hospital quickly, without recourse to traditional medical approaches which can dangerously delay effective treatment, and will supply the doctor with the best possible information on arrival. The snake, if killed should be carefully taken to the hospital for identification by the doctor.
What to do?:
* Never panic - When and if the patient panics, the heart beats faster and blood circulation is rapid. In case of a venomous bite, this would result in the venom spreading quickly.
* Protect the patient and others from further bites. Do not risk further bites or delay proper medical treatment by attempting to capture or kill the snake. If the snake has not already fled, carefully remove the patient from the immediate area.
* Tie a ligature above the area of the bite in that part of the body where there is a single bone. e.g.: If the bite is on the leg, tie the ligature above the knee. If the bite is on the hand, tie it on the upper arm.
* Make sure you loosen the ligature every 10-15 minutes on your way to the hospital for a duration of approximately a minute.
* If there is any water handy, wash the infected / bitten area and squeeze from above the bite towards it, 4 to 5 times.
* Keep the patient calm and still; and head to a hospital where anti-venom for snakes common to the area is available.
* Do not give the patient anything to eat or drink. This is especially important with consumable alcohol, a known vasodilator which will speed-up the absorption of venom. Do not administer stimulants or pain medications to the victim, unless specifically directed to do so by a physician.
* Remove any jewellery or clothing which may constrict the bitten limb if it swells.
* If you have any doubt about the identification of the snake or if you don’t know which snake bit, follow the first aid steps correctly and rush to the hospital. The doctors will be able to determine the treatment.
* First-aid must under any circumstance be done within the first 10 minutes of the bite. Whatever first aid done after the first 15 minutes, is technically of no use.
Do Not Ever:
* Don’t ever cut or open up the wound thinking it would help as it opens up more tissue and nerve endings for the venom to travel faster.
* Don’t ever try sucking out the venom from the bitten area as shown in movies. Sucking it out orally is not a solution. Since all of us brush our teeth daily, we bear microscopic lacerations on our gums and whilst we try to suck out the venom, we end up infecting ourselves and instead of one victim, you would end up having two.
* Don’t ever go seek help from a seer, charmer or quack. There is no magical or herbal treatment to snake bite. Their treatments work in the case of non-venomous bites.
* Don't ever administer poly-valent anti-venom on your own. It is to be administered only by a doctor as it has to be administered with saline and may sometimes have allergic reactions to certain people.
Symptoms of Snake Bite
The most common symptoms of all snakebites are panic, fear and emotional instability, which may cause symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea, vertigo, fainting, tachycardia and cold, clammy skin. Most snakes bites, whether by a venomous snake or not, will have some type of local effect. Usually there is minor pain and redness, but this varies depending on the site. Bites by vipers and some cobras may be extremely painful, with the local tissue sometimes becoming tender and severely swollen within five minutes. This area may also bleed and blister.
Be one with nature, not against it! The next time you see a snake, keep yourself at a safe distance, protect yourself and then call the Friends of Snakes Club to come for the rescue. Spare a thought before you move to kill it!
An endearing person, Rajkumar Kanuri, one of India’s best known ophiologists, defied fate and survived venomous snake bites innumerable times. But in what can only be a strange twist of fate, he died of complications caused by cerebral malaria on 25th October 2010, while he was still helping us with this feature. A guiding light, who set an example for many by dedicating his life to snakes, will be sorely missed by the world. May his soul rest in peace. This feature is a tribute to this great man.
* The largest snake in the world is the Anaconda of South America, with an average length of 20 ft and an average weight of 150 Kgs!
* The longest snake in the world is the Reticulated Python found in India & South East Asia and can grow up to 33 ft in length!
* The smallest Snake in the world is the Barbados Thread snake found in the Caribbean Islands, Africa, and Asia and grows up to a maximum length of about 10 centimetres.
* The fastest land snake in the world is the Black Mamba found in Africa and can reach speeds of about 10-12 mph!
* The most venomous snake in the world is the Inland Taipain or the Fierce Snake found in Australia and has venom that is 50 times more toxic than most rattlesnakes and 200 - 400 times more toxic than a cobra!
* The largest venomous snake in the world is the King Cobra found in India & South East Asia and can grow up to lengths of 5.6 m!
Month: December 2010.
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