A documentary on the status of king cobra in Visakhapatnam and Srikakulam districts

 Murthy Kantimahanti  rescuing a king cobra

Murthy Kantimahanti rescuing a king cobra | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Within the highly-modified, human-dominated landscape of the Eastern Ghats of Andhra Pradesh, exists a legendary serpent — the king cobra. Despite being the longest venomous snake in the world, the king cobra is timid by nature and prefers to escape if it encounters human beings. However, here in the Eastern Ghats of South India, such an encounter is often deadly for the snake.  "Over the past six years, we have rescued as many as 51 king cobras in Visakhapatnam, Vizianagaram and Srikakulam districts. Last year alone 13 big king cobras and two hatchlings were rescued by our team," says Murthy Kantimahanti, founder of Eastern Ghats Wildlife Society (EGWS), a non-profit organisation that promotes community-based wildlife conservation in the region. 

Earlier this week, EGWS released the documentary A Forgotten Kingdom - King Cobras in the Eastern Ghats of Andhra Pradesh, highlighting the journey of the serpent in unprotected landscapes of Visakhapatnam and Srikakulam districts. The nearly five-minute-long documentary was shot over a period of four months in the wild and also documents the snake after it was released following a rescue operation. Made by Murthy along with Sabbavarapu Madhu and Venkatesh Pechheti, the documentary seeks to project the king cobra conservation paradigm in human-dominated landscapes of the Eastern Ghats in northern Andhra Pradesh and convey the message of the conservation of unprotected habitats outside sanctuaries and reserves.

A king cobra

A king cobra | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

According to a recent global reptile assessment study by the journal  Nature, about 20% of the world’s reptile species risk extinction mainly due to habitat destruction, urban development and logging. Of the over 10,100 reptile species analysed, about 21% t were classified as endangered, critically endangered or vulnerable to extinction, including the iconic king cobra and other hooded snakes of South and Southeast Asia. Threatened by habitat destruction, the king cobra has been listed as ‘vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List since 2010. In India, it is placed under Schedule II of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. The king cobra inhabits the Eastern Ghats, Western Ghats and Terai regions in India. It has also been sighted in Uttarakhand.

The documentary begins with a shot of the snake making its way into the forested landscapes of the Eastern Ghats, tracing its journey through human-dominated regions. The oil palm plantations in the region have the right temperature and resources to attract snakes including king cobras. Human-snake conflicts are high in this region. The documentary narrates the ecological significance of the snake. "King cobras predominantly feed on other snakes and play a vital role in maintaining an ecological balance. However, the species is indiscriminately killed in the North Eastern Ghat region," Murthy adds.

In 2016, Eastern Ghats Wildlife Society initiated the first ever king cobra conservation programme in collaboration with Andhra Pradesh Forest Department. "The project not only addresses threats like rampant killings of king cobras by ignorant local communities but also deals with snakebite management which is a very serious conservation conflict in the area," says Murthy. Under the project, as many as 18 amateur snake handlers were given professional training and snake rescue equipment for the safe rescue of snakes from human habitations.

Around 400 personnel from the State forest, fire and police departments were trained in the identification of local snake species and snakebite management. Snake awareness programmes were also held in more than 50 rural and urban schools.

The documentary is available in the YouTube channel of Eastern Ghats Wildlife Society.

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Printable version | Jun 17, 2022 12:21:43 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/a-documentary-on-the-status-of-king-cobra-in-visakhapatnam-and-srikakulam-districts/article65366207.ece