Snakes that send shivers down the spine of most people are not too rare a sight in urban Chennai.

The Forest Ranger’s Office in Chennai, which has a group of trained wildlife rescue professionals on call, receives anything between five to 30 calls a day from harried citizens.

“The situation is sad,” says forest ranger of Chennai, S. David Raj, because “it is entirely and easily avoidable.”

Keep the surroundings clean, the officer says. “With no burrows or bushes to provide shelter, no snake will enter human habitat.”

Last week, there was a call from a school administrator about a snake on the premises, Mr. Raj says.

“I told him to sack the headmaster first. Every time someone complains about sighting a snake, I can only hold the person maintaining the premises responsible,” he says.

Over the years, the forest range department has employed youth of the Irula tribe to respond to calls from residents who sight snakes, paying them a nominal monthly honorarium. The Irulas were originally concentrated in the adjoining district of Tiruvallur. Now a few of them live in the Red Hills area.

One such youth, 22-year-old S. Tamilchelvan, who was earlier employed as a snake-catcher on call for the wildlife department, says the monthly payment was so poor he quit the job.

Today, he drives a taxi to make a living. Most Irula men, he says, have moved on to other professions.

Mr. Raj, however, says the forest range office has enough number of snake-catchers and wildlife rescue personnel to respond to distress calls in city limits within half an hour.

The serpents made their way into city limits probably through the embankments of Cooum and Adyar rivers or from the city’s outskirts where there are open fields.

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