Holding a 10-ft long king cobra in his right hand and a snake-catcher stick in his left on Saturday, 38-year-old Ahammed Basheer of Cholakkalakath at Meppadi in Wayanad district said it was the twelfth king cobra he caught this year.

The records of the Forest Divisional Offices at Kalpetta and Mananthavady support his claim. Known as a snake catcher in Meppadi area, Mr. Basheer’s service is vital to the Forest Department and the public. He said he had caught 17 king cobras and numerous other species of venomous snakes, including a cobra, since 1998.

Mr. Basheer did not foray into the field accidentally; his enthusiasm for learning the ways of the reptiles, from his childhood, made him rear many venomous and non-venomous snakes at home during his teenage days. He closely observed their life and peculiarities all through that time.

Showing the partially amputated index finger on his left hand, Mr. Basheer said it was lost when he was trying to release a cobra caught from a house at Vythiri into the forests in 2007. But, he caught the first king cobra that month itself, even before removing the plaster. “You can call me even at midnight and I will be at your doorstep. I never charge a single paisa for my services. People’s prayers and best wishes are enough to keep me going,” he said.

“His service is very valuable for us as he is always ready to attend our calls to rescue snakes from any terrain,” P. Dhanesh Kumar, South Wayanad Divisional Forest Officer, said.

After catching a snake, he usually puts it in a sack and leaves it in nearby forests. But, he released king cobras only into evergreen forests as it preferred to live in a cool climate, Mr. Basheer said.

A small-shop owner and the Vythiri taluk secretary of the Indian Red Cross society, Mr. Basheer spends his free time disbursing free pamphlets on ‘Snakes in Kerala’ in the district’s schools and organises awareness classes for environment clubs there on the significance of conserving snakes.

“A snake will not harm you, unless you harm it, be it poisonous or non-poisonous,” he said.

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