If a snake is small, slithery and green and lives in water, a Kannadiga is most likely to refer to it as Neer Haavu or water snake. But how does one distinguish between various kinds of water snakes?
Anees Mohammed, the snake expert, believes it is time we gave them all separate names so that we can tell one variety from another. According to Mr. Mohammed, generic names have led to a lot of confusion, failing to identify the snake species individually. This has resulted in unnecessary panic and fear for snakes among people irrespective of whether they are venomous or not.
“There are several types of water snakes, both venomous and non-venomous. Yet, all of them are called Neer Haavu,” he says. According to Mr. Mohammed, very few of the State's 19 most common snake varieties have been named. A rat snake is known as Kere Haavu, which is often a generic name for many land snakes.
All this has set Mr. Mohammed — the man credited with giving the world the safest snake catching technique — on his latest mission. He is working with D.P. Muralidhar, Deputy Director of the Karnataka Information Department, and a team of Kannada writers to catalogue all the snakes of Karnataka in Kannada.
These names will go into Kannada and English posters featuring high-resolution images of 19 species of snakes, all photographed by him. It will also have a list of the dos and don'ts and the first-aid measures in the event of snakebite. It will also highlight the Big Four, India's four most venomous snakes — the Indian cobra, common krait, Russell's viper and saw-scaled viper.
Citing another example of confusion, he says that any striped snake is often called Kattada Haavu, which includes common krait, banded racer, striped keelback and the wolf snake. Of these, only the common krait is venomous, necessitating treatment. Due to the generic term, the other three Kattada Haavu are also considered venomous by many.
When asked about the already existing Kannada names given by the traditional tribal communities, which might not be documented, Mr. Mohammed said that they do exist, but often by different names in different regions. “There are three local names for the Malabar pit viper used by different tribal communities,” he said.