With the State machinery moving at a snail’s pace against the threat posed by the fast spreading Giant African Snail menace in Konni in Pathanamthitta district, two 10th class students at a local school have come out with certain startling findings through a comprehensive study on the same recently.
Swathy Nair and Swetha Nair, twin sisters studying at Republican Vocational Higher Secondary School at Konni say that they have undertaken a study on the snail menace in the locality with the support of the science club at the school. Their father, Ratheeshbabu, a professional photographer, was the driving spirit behind the project work.
Talking to The Hindu, Swetha said their residential courtyard was full of snails and they have even cultured snails in a tank as part of the study that began a year ago.
The snails have become a menace in ward-XI of Konni panchayat. Areas surrounding Madhathilkavu, Maroor Bridge, Chinamukku and vegetable market are the worst affected areas and the snail infestation is spreading fast to the nearby panchayat of Pramadom as well as Kumbazha near Pathanamthitta town.
According to the twin sisters, the first Giant African Snail (Achatina Fluica) is believed to have sighted in Konni in June 2008. However, these creatures were found swarming in many parts of the panchayat by
June-July, 2009, posing threat to the local vegetation and not to speak of the sordid mental state it creates in the local population.
According to them, the snail population which was only 840 per every cent of land in 2008 had multiplied to as many as 10,000 in the next one year period. A snail lays as many as 400 eggs at a time and not
less than 380 of them will be easily hatched, they said.
These creatures come out of their day-time hide-outs like wet burrows on trees and rocks during night hours. They do not like heat and light and seldom survive in hot climate, especially above 30 degree centigrade. Snails moving in clusters, riding on each other’s backs, are a common scene in many places in Konni, says Swetha.
It is believed that Giant African Snails might have reached Konni that houses as many as 12 timber saw mills along with timber consignments in 2005 from Malaysia where they flourish.
These nocturnal creatures creep into the kitchen and other parts of residential buildings. They feed on cement, lime and the like as it required large quantity of calcium for its shell, says T.V.Sajeevan, scientist at Kerala Forest Research Institutue, Peechi, who too had conducted a study in Konni recently.
Mr Sajeevan told The Hindu that this snail species can go into hibernation for upto three years and come out as and when the climatic condition turns conducive.
Study by the two girl students showed that the snails have been causing harm to food crops like tapioca, papaya and other vegetation, especially rubber trees in Konni.
They have submitted their study report to the grama panchayat, Agriculture department and to Forest Minister Minister, Binoy Viswom.
Forest department has been closely monitoring the situation to check any possible snail invasion into the adjoining forest areas, said Mr Sajeevan.
Unfortunately, the Agriculture department has not yet taken any effective step to address the problem, alleged a local villager, even though the department had supplied Metaldehyde, a molluscicide, to the local residents with out giving any guidelines for its use and making them aware of its toxicity which might affect other animals that ingest it.
The grama panchayat had launched a snail eradication drive in the affected areas by spraying salt on the snail population and burying the dead creatures in bulk, later.
However, the twin sisters are of the opinion that a tobacco-salt mixture is found to have been the most suitable eco-friendly and effective molluscicide against the Giant African Snail.
The Giant African Snail are also said to be carriers of Phylophthora fungus that causes root and stem rot in plants. Studies in various other parts of the globe showed that the snails can carry a parasite that can cause illness in humans too, says Swetha.
However, Health department appeared to have taken an indifferent attitude towards the issue. It is noteworthy that similar Giant African Snail menace was reported from Palluruthy area in Kochi, Kozhikode city and from Palakkad, a year ago.