Sarpa app helps bring down snakebite deaths in Kerala

The app by the Forest Department is identifying parts with the highest incidence, the distribution of various species, and the time at which each species becomes most active

Updated - July 08, 2023 08:48 pm IST

Published - July 08, 2023 06:05 pm IST - KOLLAM

A Sarpa volunteer caught a highly venomous Russell’s viper from a house in Thrissur.

A Sarpa volunteer caught a highly venomous Russell’s viper from a house in Thrissur. | Photo Credit: The Hindu

The months of Vrischikam and Dhanu coincide with the mating season of snakes as they come out of pits and hide under a carpet of dry leaves. It is also the time of temple festivals in Kerala and the sudden surge in night-time movement heightens the risk of snakebites.

Through the Sarpa (Snake Awareness Rescue and Protection) app the Forest department has identified various hotspots in the State that reported multiple cases during the period and at present an integrated strategy to minimise the incidents is in place.

Site-specific plans

According to officials, species-specific data collected through the app since its launch in August 2020 have been invaluable, helping them bring down snakebite deaths in Kerala to a great extent. “With the help of the data we collected for nearly three years, we could streamline our strategy and carry out rescue operations more efficiently. Based on it, we have formulated site-specific plans by integrating remedial measures and precautions. Sarpa volunteers have been collecting data of all cases including those not reported on the app. Gathering data was very crucial to identifying parts with the highest incidence, the distribution of various species, and the time each species becomes most active,” Assistant Conservator of Forests and State nodal officer for snake rescue Y. Mohammed Anwar told The Hindu.

1,720 trained volunteers

Currently the department conducts an average 10,000 rescue operations a year through a network of 1,720 trained volunteers from all walks of life that include students, doctors, auto drivers, scientists, IT professionals and daily wage workers. “The average annual snakebite death in Kerala was 110 before the app and in 2022 only around 40 cases were reported from the State. The goal of the project is to completely eliminate snakebite deaths. Snakes are responsible for 80% deaths in cases of human-wildlife conflicts in Kerala. The risk factor is high since snakes are seen in forest fringes, rural areas, and urban parts,” he says.

Four prime culprits

While Palakkad district reported the highest number of snakebite cases and casualties in Kerala in the past 10 years, four species — cobra, krait, Russell’s viper, and saw-scaled viper — are responsible for maximum deaths. As monsoon intensifies, hiding places of reptiles get flooded forcing them to come out, recording a spike in cases. “Snakes have a territorial nature, but during heavy rain they are seen out of their home range. If you encounter a snake, all you need is to upload a photo, not necessarily of the snake, but the place of its hiding to alert the nearest rescuer. We have directed all local self-government representatives to install the app,” he says.

Mr. Anwar adds that lack of awareness is one major factor that leads to casualties. “Only trained persons should handle snakes that are a protected species. Right now we are also trying to establish a more comprehensive system in coordination with the Health department and the Kerala State Disaster Management Authority,” he says.

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