They are on a mission to create awareness among the public

As P. Manimegalai stealthily takes out a snake from a bag and shows it to the group around her, a collective gasp of fear is heard. “This snake is like a baby. It will not harm you,” she states confidently as she pulls out another snake from her backpack.

The founder of Tamil Nadu Snake Research and Wild Animal Rescue Trust, this 27-year-old woman from Ramanathapuram is one of the few female snake catchers in the State.

Ms.Manimegalai, along with R. Nagarathinam, M. Selvakumari, Katheejal Begum and S. Amutha, run the all-women members trust that has been attending calls from people who spot snakes and ask them to be caught. The trust also conducts regular programmes for college and school students as well as housewives.

“It has been ingrained in most of us that all snakes are poisonous and we immediately react with fear and end up killing them. But most of them are harmless and in the long run if people continue to keep killing them, everything from the food chain to the ecosystem will be thrown out of balance,” says Ms.Manimegalai. “We also talk to people about first aid to be administered in the event of a snake bite and teach them how to differentiate between poisonous and non-poisonous snakes”, she explains.

The members of the trust say that out of the 65 types of snakes that can be found in the district, only four types are poisonous.

“If not harmed or disturbed, they will just slither away and not cause any harm but people get together in groups and beat them up. We offer to catch snakes when called and either hand them over to the Forest Department or release them safely in a forest area,” explains R. Nagarathinam, a member of the trust.

The women from the trust also rue the false notions propagated through mass media and popular culture. “Snakes don’t wait for their prey, nor do they remember people across generations and take revenge as depicted in movies,” they say.

At an awareness programme that the trust conducted on Wednesday for a group of residents in Anaiyur, many women who were first hesitant to touch the snakes that were being shown slowly mustered courage to do so after they were told about the species. M.D. Lakshmikantham, a resident of Anaiyur drew applause from the crowd when she put the snake around her neck.

“If my message reaches at least 10 other people like her who will be calm when they spot a snake and not kill it, it will do a lot for the conservation of the species,” concludes Ms.Manimegalai who stays in Vilangudi.

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