The snake catchers of Bengaluru

These are the men and women you call when a cobra, krait, viper or rat snake come calling

Did you know that Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP)gets nearly 60 snake rescue calls per day in summer as it is mating season for certain species from mid-February to September? Responding to these requests are over 30 snake catchers who work with the civic agency. There are 25 varieties of snakes, including cobra, rat snake and Russels’s viper, in the BBMP limits, which can suddenly present themselves and cause panic among bystanders.

“In rainy seasons water flushes them out of their hideouts,” says Siddappa, a snake rescuer. While snakes are found in the open green spaces, vacant sites and water bodies, according to wildlife volunteer Sharath R Babu, they also take shelter in open ditches and storm-water drains. People for Animals (PfA) has rescued 12,000 snakes in the last two decades and has a dedicated treatment centre for these creatures.

Colonel Dr Navaz Shariff, chief veterinarian who has done spinal surgeries of reptiles says, “Snakes play a major role in maintaining the food chain by checking rodents. Without them, zoonotic diseases can spread between animals and humans.” PfA which has a bunch of rescuers, also conducts workshops in schools to sensitise children and share details on hospitals that are equipped with anti-snake venom.

Gender doesn’t matter

Madhu Shodhan Kumar, 53, a healthcare entrepreneur, would hardly have dreamt that she would befriend serpents. The arts graduate from NMKRV College, grew up in VV Puram and is a black belt in Taekwondo, Korean Martial Art.

Madhu is regarded as the snake rescue queen in the gated community where she lives on Kanakapura Main Road. She has rescued nearly 50 snakes including cobra, common krait, viper, rat and tree snake from around the apartments and restaurants in the area. United Federation of Residents Welfare Associations has recognised Madhu for her helpful attitude and honoured her.

“Apartments and layouts have been built on green patches causing the snakes to lose their habitat. It is not surprising that they are entering homes and business establishments. We have to get them back into their habitats,” says a soft-spoken Madhu, who says her dream is to hold a 15-foot cobra in Agumbe.

“Call the rescuers if you spot a snake; they will not harm you unless you provoke them,” says Madhu who discovered an understanding of the reptiles when she handled a snake at her gate, with her neighbours watching in disbelief. Be it at the snake park in Malaysia or the Burmese python that she yearned to hug at the Bangkok floating market, Madhu has a soft spot for snakes, while her family members still find it unbelievable.

“I don’t find them slithery or scary, they are firm and beautiful to touch,” says Madhu, who has taken basic training to see it reach her special bag. “I go to the Turahalli forest area and liberate them into their home,” says Madhu.

‘Naga Manju’ rescues out of love

The snake catchers of Bengaluru

P Manjunatha, listed in the BBMP Forest Cell of rescuers from 2008, has skilled hands that can grab a snake, weave a fabric or play the tanpura. “I can handle a steering wheel too,” laughs Manjunatha who is a driver to MS Subbulakshmi’s grandson V Srinivasan. Manjunatha, 44, also known as ‘Naga-Manju’ lives at Weavers Colony near Gottigere where he was born and belongs to the Devanga community of weavers from Karnataka. He grew up watching pachyderms, wolves and venomous reptiles stray into residences as his home borders the Bannerghatta and Kalkere forest area. “I was catching snakes even before I turned seven. I would go hunting and get punished at school for bringing a snake on my shoulder,” he says. In the 1990s, he began rescuing monkeys, squirrels and owls that had been zapped by electrical wires. “I rush them to Bannerghatta Rehabilitation Centre,” says Manjunatha who has rescued more than 7000 snakes of every kind in the last 40 years. “Once while searching for a 6-foot cobra under a bulk of tiles at Belur, I was caught unawares as it stared me in the eye and then slithered away over my shoulder!” he says. Sharath Babu, a wildlife rescuer at Bannerghatta Rehab advised him to undergo professional training, which he did.

Learnt the tricks with care

The snake catchers of Bengaluru

Paramedical graduate from STJ College in Mandya, Mohan Anand, 23, learned how to catch snakes from his verdant neighbourhood in Kengeri where he was born and brought up. “I followed People for Animals (PfA) on Facebook and Instagram. I approached them to help reptiles. Getting professionally trained in snake rescue has helped me contribute more to society,” says Mohan who has been with the non-profit organisation for the last six months.

Mohan has caught 200 snakes so far, including the checkered keelback, wolf snake, common trinket and Russell's viper. “I once saved a young cobra that was trapped in an adhesive tape. When people panicked, I gradually used coconut oil and bright light to remove the tape and put it in my bag. At PfA’s dedicated hospital the snake was treated for anti-stress before releasing it into the forest,” says Mohan whose informal skills were sharpened at PfA.

Hooked to snake bags

The snake catchers of Bengaluru

When Naveen Appi was trying to figure out how he is going to catch a high-decibel whistler Russel Viper and put it into his snake-bag at Hoysala Circle at Kengeri Satellite town, a senior rescuer and rehabilitator of PFA who was passing by, noticed amateur Naveen at the job. Advising him not to “deal with snakes unscientifically” he took him to PfA and made him go through the official animal rescue training. “I learned how to handle venomous and non-venomous snakes and the techniques of holding them at the right spot to help us bag them safely,” says Naveen, who in four years has caught nearly 1200 snakes. “Once a cobra was caught between the radiator and a fan in a Jeep. We had to get it out without unnerving the snake. So we used two litres of cold water, to ease the creature out safely. We took the snake to PFA for a 15-day de-stressing,” says Naveen who uses a hook and snake bag professionally.

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Printable version | Jun 3, 2020 2:12:03 AM |

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