The documentary “One Million Snake Bites” sends out the message – that humans and snakes must learn to coexist.

Snakes move swiftly and people in crowded cities jostle each other…the documentary “One Million Snake Bites” (that was screened recently at Sathyam Cinemas to celebrate World Environment Day) opens with the undeniable fact that snake and man must learn to coexist. Otherwise it could spell disaster for both.

Rom Whittaker, the man behind the movie is on a quest to save the species he loves — snakes. His message – to protect the snake he has to protect people, and this can be done by spreading awareness.

Fear for the reptile is age-old, most of us feel shivers run down our spine when we see even a picture of the snake. But it needn't be so, he says. The speciality of the movie is the truth about snakes which refutes common beliefs. The documentary brings out hard facts.

Whittaker's soft corner for the king cobra is evident in his treatment of them, and he shows how these enormous almost 15-footers are really fighting shy of coming in contact with humans (for they live in dense jungles far away from human habitation). The high speed cameras record that even when the artificial foot is kept on the snake, the reaction is more of getting away, though it does make a token attack. So it is with the Indian cobra. But it is a different story with the saw scaled viper — it is extremely aggressive and goes for the kill. So does the large-scaled pit viper camouflaged in the green of the tea plantations in Assam.

A brilliant shot in the film shows as Kali digs into a “promising” hole to find a snake, he finds instead a huge hoard of grain. Snakes are attracted by rats and they get into rat holes and make them their habitat too. This way they keep the balance of not letting the population of rats get out of hand – for rats are quite capable of eating up grain so there might be a shortage of it.

Talking to villagers it was stressed that hey should not put their hands and feet into dense scrub and it was essential for them to carry a light when they go out in the night. Most villages do not have electricity and snakes do have the habit of curling up in dark places. Grain attracts rats which in turn attract snakes; this vicious chain can harm man. He therefore must see that this confrontation is avoided.

The movie also discusses the making of anti venom. After the venom is milked by the Irulas at their cooperative centre at the Madras Crocodile Bank, the snakes are then safely released into the wild. Whittaker is also on a quest to find out whether these snakes have regionally varying venoms, to save more lives across India.

The interactive session after the movie was educative and interesting. “Why can't snakes be eradicated?” had him explain that more deaths were caused by lorries annually, and that lorry drivers can't be “killed off” instead they have be taught to drive carefully so that they don't hurt anyone. Since snakes can't be “educated, it's up to humans to be aware of their surroundings and learn to coexist.”

Whittaker also stressed on the fact that snakes had venom so that they could get food with it, but we humans mistakenly think that it is solely to bite us.

Brilliant shots, close ups that thrill, a lucid narrative make a great watch, one that inspires us to spread the message of awareness and conservation of this ancient creature of the planet.

Pros and cons

Recent data shows that India is indeed the land of a million snake bites. Every year there are 50,000 deaths due to snakebites. Going in search of the truth about these snakes with his Irula tribal friends Rom discovers that agricultural workers are more in danger of getting bitten as they step on to or put their hands into snake habitats. But all is not in vain, for most Indians revere and worship snakes and this helps preserving and conserving them.