A visit to the Chennai Snake Park is a fine place to begin to learn about reptiles.

“Wow” was the collective gasp as the 70 kids from National Star M.H.S.S., Arumbakkam entered the premises of the Snake Park. They made a beeline to the glass cages that housed the huge pythons and through the different pens that had other snakes, crocs and turtles.

The Chennai Snake Park conducts environmental education programme for children in Stds. VII to XI. The highlight of the programme is the common Indian snakes, the precautions, first aid and treatment and the need to conserve snakes.

B. Vijayaraghavan, Chairman of the CSPT, says that kids must develop an interest in natural studies from an early age. The snake park and other zoos are now no longer mere zoos, kept for entertainment but they are places of information too, and so people must take advantage of these places, he said.

In the hall, with the ongoing video of Rom Whittakers “The King Cobra and I”, all eyes were focused on the glass case, where a helper, “Showed off” five different snakes: the common vine snake, the bronze back tree snake, the Indian rat snake, the chequered keel back and the cobra. There was also a powerpoint presentation focused on what exactly are snakes, how many species, the venous and non venomous types, snakes that live in or live close to human habitation, Precautions on must take to avoid snake bites, first aid and treatment, false beliefs that surround sakes and the importance of conserving snakes.

There was a pin drop silence in the hall as the children garnered facts from the presentation. They absorbed the facts: that snakes evolved 135 million years ago, and they evolved from lizards. (Even now in some snakes there are signs of the rudimentary legs.)

The kids got to know that the big four are: the King Cobra, the Common Krait, the Russels Viper and the Saw scaled Viper. Each snake was discussed in detail and the symptoms of their bite and the reactions to the bite, the two different venoms that can affect the nerves and the blood system.

They were also shown the different snakes that could live near their homes and the precautions they could take:

Know your snakes

Be aware and not afraid as Fear kills (bitten people are susceptible to fear)

Clear wild vegetation and the litter around the house.

Block cracks and spaces through which they can crawl through.

When going out in the dark carry a torch and thump the ground in front with a heavy stick as you walk in the dark.

Snakes are more scared of humans and attack only when they feel threatened. Let them go quietly.

Treatment was discussed and it was stressed that only antivenin works. People should avoid other methods as it could be fatal. It was also stressed that tourniquets should not used as it leads to the death of cells and when necrosis sets it, limbs have to be amputated.

False beliefs surrounding snakes were pointed out and quickly dispelled. For example: that the cobra has a gem in its hood, that when its partner is killed the other takes revenge and many such superstitions. The importance of conserving snakes followed where the students learned that snakes prey on agricultural pests like rats and insects. This is important as they keep the balance if unchecked a single pair of rats can multiply to 880 a year.

The education officer, S. Sivakumar, then had to answer umpteen questions and finally armed with packets of biscuits the students trooped out quietly, trying to have a last glimpse of the day of these ancient awesome creatures that have fascinated man.

Interesting snippets

It smells through its tongue and takes in vibration through the jawbone.

Its hiss is the sign of a warning “Back off” and its communication with other snakes is through chemical substance (like ant trails)

It has no eyelids, but has a transparent scale over its eye called a brille (which is renewed like its skin)

It hibernates to conserve energy. Did you know that there are snakes called false cobras- as they mimic the true one by frightening their enemy by hissing and spreading their hoods.

Some snakes even pretend to be dead to hoodwink their enemies.

Only King Cobras build nests to lay eggs, otherwise the young are on their own.

There are 3000 species of snakes in the world, 276 are in India.

GANESH, IX: I didn't expect the place to be so good, there was a good display of information that I could read. I liked the crocodiles and the sea snakes which to my surprise I learned are highly venomous.

T.S. ROHITH, VII: I am now more aware about the venomous and the non venomous snakes.

S.S. MANIKANDAN, IX: There was this huge rat snake behind my house. My father took a long stick and gently took it far away and left it. I have come here for the first time and I want to come again with my family.

MAHALAKSHMI, IX: The first time I saw a snake real close was when it was “sunbathing” on the front steps”, I'm glad they are in glass houses here.

H. AMRIN, VIII: This is the first time I'm coming in contact with snakes, I'm not scared, but am more aware about them.

P.S. SHANMUGAPRIYA, VIII: I just love the Indian Rock Python. When I went to my village in Thirukalukundram, a cobra came into the house, but it went away when all of us made a big noise

.Schools can contact Mr. S. Sivakumar, Environment Education Officer (2235 3623/ 94449 81724

email: cspt1972@gmail.com) for more information

Rescue a snake: If a snake sneaks in, do not hurt it. Instead call the Snake Rescue Team: 044 22200335.