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Four snake catchers from Assam make journal hiss-tory

An electrician, an automobile dealer, an airport worker and an Indian Air Force employee in Assam get recognition with published papers on serpents

January 21, 2023 07:17 pm | Updated January 26, 2023 10:06 am IST - GUWAHATI

Bappi Majumder catching a snake

Bappi Majumder catching a snake | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement


Snakes have made four non-herpetologists of Assam get into science journals.

Independent of each other, Indian Air Force employee Chitra B. Tamang, automobile dealer Mathuranath Dey, electrician Bappi Majumder, and Guwahati airport worker Milu Medhi have been “rescuing” snakes from human habitations for years. A few weeks ago, they were brought together in the pages of Reptiles & Amphibians, a leading scientific journal.

Mr. Dey and Mr. Majumder, both 35-year-olds were the co-authors in two studies — one on the first confirmed record of the Bengalese kukri snake from Assam, and the other on king cobras. The 45-year-old Mr. Tamang and the 42-year-old Mr. Medhi co-authored a paper on a rare case of venom-spitting by the monocled cobra.

Reptile specialist Jayaditya Purkayastha, who runs the conservation-based Help Earth and anchored the papers, said the recognition for the quartet of “so-called non-experts” would be beneficial for the world of science in the long run.

“Most of us biologists do more lab work than field work. The snake rescuers, who handle the reptiles out of passion, have very valuable data that we are losing out, especially about the diversity of snakes in a local area,” he said.

“Their data is important to understand the ratio of venomous to non-venomous species and accordingly develop public awareness programmes. There are even possibilities of uncovering never-before-seen snake species, adding to the checklist of the places they operate,” he said.

Science, Mr. Purkayastha insisted, is not just for a handful of experts to contribute to.

“A good snake rescuer has much more data than many such experts and the global community has understood this for citizen science to gain momentum,” he said.

Mr. Tamang said he taught himself how to catch and rescue snakes after watching people kill them due to fear or perception that it is a dangerous creature.

“I have rescued thousands of snakes including 750 banded kraits and more than 2,000 monocled cobras. But what gives me more joy is making people differentiate between the venomous and non-venomous snake and not instinctively kill the creature so vital for a balanced ecosystem,” he told The Hindu.

In many urban centres and villages that he has rescued serpents from, people have learnt to identify and understand snakes, tell the venomous ones from the non-venomous ones and give them time to slither away.

“I maintain a datasheet of more than 12,000 snakes rescued over 18 years in and around Lumding (central Assam) from where I have recorded 23 species, five of them venomous,” Mr. Majumder said.

He passes on his knowledge about snakes to common people. “The idea is to save snakes from being killed by ignorance even after I am no longer able to do it myself,” he said.

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