Their hiss is worse than their bite, says Santhosh Kumar who spends a lot of time rescuing snakes that have strayed into human habitation and releasing them into forests
Snakes are his babies, he says. When they coil around his shoulders and snuggle in his arms, he feels like their mother. And that is how he got the name, Snake Santhosh. “The joy of handling them comes more from love than courage.That is why I named my snake rehabilitation team, ‘Mother of all snakes’,” says Santhosh Kumar. Be it night or day, he and his team of eight members, rush to rescue snakes once they receive an alert. From innocent rat snakes to venomous Russel’s vipers and cobras, all of them have a saviour in him.
On a hot afternoon, when I set out to meet Santhosh, he and his three assistants are already mounted on two bikes about to start for Anaikatti to release a seven-feet-long python. “We just caught him from Dheenamangalam,” Santhosh explains pointing to a brown sack, housing the animal.
Search for a home
He offers me a ride into the forest and we speed off to Anaikatti forest, where the python will find its new abode. Forests are the best place to release them, says Santhosh. “You cannot release them anywhere near the city. However remote the area is, they will manage to come back to human dwellings,” says Santhosh.
The sack, sandwiched between the rider and the pillion, occasionally moves as the occupant inside wriggles when the bike rides over bumps and takes quick turns.
“Now the python is not venomous. But it can crush your bones into powder,” says Santhosh. The 27-year-old reads extensively on snakes. “I even conduct demonstration and lectures for residents when I go to catch snakes. Lack of awareness is the main reason why we get alarmed seeing a snake. All snakes are not venomous.”
Russel vipers, cobras, pythons, common cat snakes... Santhosh has handled all kinds of snakes. However, he is sad that till this date he has not caught a King cobra. “I even dream of him in my sleep! I know they are common in Kerala. I am waiting for someone to call me to Kerala.”
Santhosh grinds to a halt near the Mangarai forest check post. “We tie up with the forest Department. Every time I release a snake into a forest I have to alert the forest officials.” Santhosh hops off his bike and puts the sack onto the ground now. The forest officials circle him. Women emerge from the nearby shacks and men crowd around to see the snake. “Hey take a photo!” Santhosh tells his assistant who pulls out a camera from his pocket. With a dramatic flourish, Santhosh puts his hands inside the sack and holding the python’s head pulls it out of it. As the glistening, golden python emerges from the sack, women let out a gasp of excitement and the men move back respectfully. The guards inspect the snake. After getting the nod from the forest guards, the snake goes back into the sack and we resume our journey. Two more forest guards join us.
We reach the Anaikatti forest. Santhosh swerves his bike into Salim Ali Centre. We drive till we reach a brown water trough. Santhosh pulls the python out and releases him into the tank. “We always release the animal next to a trough or pool, so that it has ready access to water. He can sustain himself till he fully adapts to the new surrounding,” he explains. With his narrow head bobbing up and down, the python floats in the muddy pool. He lets out a low hiss and greedily drinks the water.
Santhosh then pulls the python out of the trough, by tugging its midsection with a curved snake catching hook. With one hand on its mouth and the other holding the python’s tail, Santhosh lays it on the ground. “Now he will be the new member of this forest. It will not take him long to get used to this place,” says Santhosh. Slowly, he releases his grip. The python slithers with speed into the dense jungle and disappears from view.
Santhosh Kumar is available for help at 99767-76539.