A 45-year-old animal keeper at the Thiruvananthapuram zoo died on Thursday afternoon following a snakebite.
The deceased, A. Harshad, is thought to have been bitten by a king cobra while cleaning a shift cage in the reptile house.
Harshad was engaged in cleaning the king cobra enclosure. He cleaned the main enclosure after shifting the snake to the shift cage. The reptile is supposed to be transferred back to the main closure before cleaning the shift cage. But it is thought that Harshad tried to clean it with the snake inside, said zoo Director S. Abu.
In the CCTV camera visuals, Harshad is seen stepping out of the enclosure at 12.17 p.m. The break for keepers begin at 12 noon and apparently he continued to work even during the break. Only the main enclosures are covered by CCTV.
Another keeper found Harshad prostrate on the ground around 1.30 p.m. Though he was conscious, he could not speak. But he pointed to the shift cage.
Though he was rushed to the Medical College Hospital, he was declared brought dead, the zoo authorities said.
Locked the cage
A lock found on the shift cage hinted that he had tried to free his arm from the snake and managed to slide a lock in on the door to ensure that the snake remained inside, they said.
Though reptile keepers are assigned protective equipment such as snake tongs and gloves, they actually do not come into contact with the snakes, since the animals are let into the shift cages and back through the shutters before the keepers enter the main enclosure or clean the small shift cages that are located in the spacious keepers’ gallery, they said.
The king cobra was among the three brought from the Pilikula zoo in March this year.
The zoo has limited staff on duty owing to COVID-19, the officials said.
Harshad was one of the best keepers at the zoo, dedicated, efficient and knowledgeable, with lots of experience. He had even attended a Central Zoo Authority training for keepers recently, officials said.
Harshad had been taking care of the reptiles at the zoo, including anacondas, for long.
He had been in the news a few years ago when he entered a snake enclosure in protest against the delay in making employees permanent.
Harshad, who hailed from Kattakada, is survived by his wife and child.
Another keeper at the zoo was gored to death by a rhino over a decade and a half ago.