Here is a man whose serpentine love has so far earned him 73 kisses (read bites) from snakes. The hissing sound that greets us confirms our guess ? the creepy creatures are around....

Here is a man whose serpentine love has so far earned him 73 kisses (read bites) from snakes. Dotted with closed mud pots, a glance at his office-cum-home in Karuthiveeranpatti village near Usilampatti, is a fair indicator of who P. Ramesh is.

The hissing sound that greets us confirms our guess ? the creepy creatures are around. It sends a chill down the spine even as we scan the hall full of books, posters and photographs of wild animals. And soon the enthusiastic man walks in with enough proof ? a live cobra!

I can?t but help ask him to hold the creature little away from me, enquiring whether its teeth had been removed.

?By extracting the teeth, you will kill it. My mission is to protect snakes,? immediately responds the man of snakes. ?Unable to eat and digest food without injecting venom into the prey, they will die. Venom for snakes is what saliva is for human beings,? he asserts, as we settle down for a tete-e-tete.

I can?t hold myself from asking what if it bites now?

?Even while talking, my eyes are continuously watching it?s head movements. I keep it away when necessary. If it bites, I take homeo medicines for first-aid and then go to the hospital,? he sounds cool.

Talking about environment has become fashionable these days, he notes. But not so for the truly dedicated 800-odd members of Nethaji Snake Trust, set up by him two years ago. ?For us it is a mission, though always a tough call,? reiterates Ramesh, who moves from house to house rescuing snakes and from schools to colleges creating awareness on primarily environment-related issues.

His love for nature erupted early . ?I always wanted to save and protect nature but did not know how and was particularly in love with snakes,? he says, recalling his first catch, a rat snake.

When his parents ? Paraman and Gunasundari ? gave him the option of either staying at home or leaving with his crawling friend, he chose latter and spent the entire night outside. Next morning his father found him and gave him the green signal to chase his passion.

In search of people who could teach him the nuances of handling snakes, hefirst met tribal communities eking out a living with snake shows.

?Much of what I learnt is due to my acquaintance with them ,? he acknowledges. ?Slowly, I unlearnt all misconceptions and myths about snakes. Tribal people understand best the vital roles played by all living species for environment protection,? says Ramesh, who has so far motivated 35 snake charmers and their families in Manamadurai, Sivaganga district to lead a normal life.

With two of his friends Vijay and Anand, Ramesh started rescuing snakes under the banner ?Nethaji Snake Research Centre? in 1999.

When the trio began their mission, , the response was overwhelming. During rainy season, they would average 20 calls and five calls during off-season.

The centre closed down briefly in 2002 when the members took to other careers. But Ramesh?s love for the work made him renew the mission and with the help of an homeopath , M. Deivendrakumar, he returned to rescuing not only snakes but also birds and from ant eaters to deers.

He also started counselling snake-bite victims. ?Ninety percent of the people die due to phobia and not venom. ?We need the support of victims to save them with anti-venoms,? he says, adding his Trust now has the permission of

Joint Director of Medical and Rural Health Services and Family Welfare for counselling snake bite victims.

In 2008, the trust implemented a programme ?Friends of Forest? creating awareness among college and school students besides giving tips to farmers on how to walk in the fields.

When he takes classes, he elaborateslife cycle of rats and how it spoils fields. If rat population explosion happens, human beings will suffer and snakes will be main predators saving men from the menace.

Undeterred by the compulsions of his regular job as a data operator at Usilampatti Town Police Station, Ramesh pursues his interest by availing leave which often results in loss of pay.

Though he regularly organises forest camps, he is totally against trekking. ?In the name of exploring nature, people spoil the serenity of forests besides intruding into the life of animals, who may turn wild at the sight of human beings. When I organise a forest camp, I never take the trekkers deep into the forest and also ensure that animals are not disturbed in any way,? he says.

When the Trust receives a call, volunteers rush to the spot and rescue the snake. They also keep a record duly signed by a veterinary doctor and release the animal in the Reserved Forest area in the presence of an official from Forest Department .

The volunteers also conduct awareness programmes teaching people how to handle snakes and wild animals, identifying venomous and non?venomous snakes, snake bites, their nature, hiding places and first aid methods. They also discuss human beings? duties in protecting wild animals and punishment envisaged in the Wild life Act for harming wild animals. His team members also concentrate on current issues like global warming, forest and wild life conservation, anti-plastic campaign etc.

The trust also assists students for their projects regarding wild animals and forest conservation besides taking part in research on venomous snakes and herbal remedies for snake bites and research on sea snakes. At present the trust is helping two research works on reptiles and another on birds and butterflies.

Now, Ramesh?s army of 862 men work in Madurai, Theni, Tuticorin, Virudhunagar, Ramnad, Nilgris, Kancheepuram, Coimbatore districts and in parts of Puducherry, Bangalore and Kerala with the single mission of protecting nature by rescuing snakes and wild animals.

Incidentally, Ramesh has a fascinating aspect to his qualification. This snake lover is actually a Master of Fine Arts and also teaches folk and classical dances. The art of life is to keep alive my artistic spirit embedded in me from childhood. He is, in fact, pursuing Ph.D in Bharatanatyam now.

About future plans, he shares that the Trust?s aim is to start an ecological snake park and a mini zoo to protect the abandoned snakes and other wild animals. Ramesh has decided to remain single dedicating his life to snakes and nature protection. ?Getting married will mean trouble for the spouse as I need to spend many days and nights in forest.

Ramesh is on the look out for philanthropists to meet basic expenses like buying snake catching equipment, first aid medicines, stationery, posters, leaflets, transportation charges, food and accommodation etc, since majority of his volunteers are college students.

For the record

Snake catching experience: 13 Years

Number of snake bites: 73

Snakes rescued: 2,732

Other animals rescued: 569

Snake bite counselling sessions in Usilampatti GH: 1,327

Snake awareness camps: 172

Forest camps: 27

Blood donation camps: 19