“Hello, I’ll call back shortly. I’ve got a cobra in my hand,” and with that Shravan Krishnan hangs up quickly. Later in the night, he calls back. “We rescued 12 snakes today. One hid in a garbage truck and it took us a while to spot. After 45 minutes, we found it next to the headlights,” he narrates, breathlessly. Part of a group headed by wildlife conservationist Nishanth Ravi that works closely with the State forest department, Shravan and a bunch of other volunteers are on the move constantly, rescuing animals. The floods have kept them busy round the clock — they travel across the city and spend sleepless nights. Sometimes, it’s pets such as cats and dogs, at other times, cows. Most often, however, there have been rescue calls for snakes — in this case, both the reptile and the people whose house it was found in need rescuing.
On another gloomy day, when angry clouds unrelentingly got together for a spell of devastating downpour, a panic call from a family in Adyar had volunteers rushing to the spot. The family was unable to describe the animal they had found in their kitchen. Sitting huddled next to racks of utensils was a pangolin. A rare animal, there are a few of those in Chennai, and the rescuers believe the rains must have forced it out of the Theosophical Society nearby.
Even as they wade through murky flood waters, the volunteers have found ingenious ways to keep the animals afloat, and at times, themselves. Plastic water cans and thermocol tied together form their make-shift rafts. “During a risky rescue in Mudichur, this is how we managed to extricate three dogs stranded in a house. The 14-ft-high water had reached the first floor; the dogs were on the terrace. Our team swam through the waters inside and reached the terrace. The raft was made there and released into the water, which was just four feet below the terrace,” says Nishanth, who runs SENG (Save Earth for Next Generation), and has been rescuing animals for nine years now. A similar tactic was used to guide a dozen cows to safety. “Naturally good swimmers, cows can manage short distances. We tied ropes around them, got onto our makeshift boats, and led them along, stopping every three minutes to give them rest,” adds Nishanth. It took them three-and-a-half hours to escort the cows through a distance of 1,800 metres.
Meanwhile in Kotturpuram, a big deer had made itself comfortable within the premises of the Report Bee office. Anant Mani, who works there, tweeted a picture of the spotted deer standing against a pink wall. “We called the Forest Department to inform them. Till they get here, we are feeding the deer. We have been Googling about what they eat. Can you imagine how intense the water flow would have been to displace the deer from, maybe, Guindy Park?” he says.
“The rains started around Deepavali, and from then till now, we have approximately saved 480 snakes, 120 cows, 200 plus dogs, 65 birds, a couple of monkeys… now with the water receding, we will carry out many more rescues,” Nishanth says. Of his 15-member team, four are experts in wildlife rescue. The most number of calls are for snake rescues; they are also among the most challenging. “We have to constantly keep an eye on the reptile, save the family at the same time, and make sure the snake is not hurt either. After rescue, the animals are handed over to the Forest Department,” says Nishanth.
While the Army and trained animal handlers have carried out many rescue operations, residents from across the city have come together to provide food, and in some cases shelter, for the homeless/displaced animals. A group of good Samaritans are tending to animals at Sankara Hall. They are housed, medicated and some are even adopted from there. “Different animal organisations have come together to pool in their resources, with the goal of helping as many animals as possible. It is a group of over 100 and the temporary shelter, as of now, hosts 30 puppies and five kittens,” says Madhumita, a filmmaker and one of the organisers of the camp.
Marooned families receiving food from relief camps often don’t have enough for their animals. Vaishnavi Prasad, who started Chennai Doggy Patrol, is focussing on providing food for the four-legged survivors. Supplies in the form of dog and cat food, hard-boiled eggs and rice have come in from different parts of the city as well as from Bangalore. “While it is heartening to see families who may not have enough space for themselves opening out their doors to accommodate these animals, there are a few who say ‘People are suffering and you’re giving away food to animals.’ That thought has to change. People can ask for help, animals can’t.”
* Chennai has 16 species of snakes.
* Four are venomous — spectacled cobra, Russell’s viper, scaled viper and common krait.
* The common rat snake is what you find the most in Chennai.
* Because of the floods, there are quite a few water snakes, like the chequered keelback and olive keelback found in peoples’ houses.
* In the event of a snake bite don’t panic.
* Rush to the nearest Government hospital for an anti-venom shot.
* Make sure there is enough light when you’re walking on the streets.
* Avoid bushy areas at night.
* While moving logs, use a stick.