Environment

In the hood

They are revered, worshipped, feared and killed. Humans have a complicated relationship with snakes. In a talk at reStore recently, Showkath Jamal, founder of Bay for Life Surf School and snake rescuer, encouraged people to learn more about the city’s snakes to make coexistence more peaceful.

In the hood

“There are snakes in each locality of Chennai. Even in the busiest city junctions snakes move around freely at night. Some amount of awareness will enable the population to live without fear,” says Jamal, adding that there are 15 to 20 types of snakes in Chennai, of which only four are venomous. “But humans have this misconception that all snakes are venomous. That is why we are trying to create awareness about snakes, so that the harmless ones are let free and venomous ones are rescued and relocated,” he says.

In the hood

Jamal trained in snake rescue from Mysore-based herpetologist Gowri Shankar. Now, along with Gowri Shankar, he conducts two-day workshops on snake rescuing in Chennai. Anyone above the age of 18, students and wildlife enthusiasts can participate. They are trained to identify, rescue and relocate snakes. Trained snake rescuers can participate in live snake rescue calls and operations, as they are adequately trained in rescue protocols, equipment, legal issues and conservation implications.

In the hood

Flash card game
  • In order to teach children all about Indian snakes, and make them familiar with the different types of snakes, Bay of Life has developed an educational flash card game, Snakes of India. Designed by a team comprising herpetologists SR Ganesh, Gowri Shankar and a few others, it is also a 100% accurate field guide for wildlife enthusiasts and snake rescuers across the country. The team had collected data comprising original photographs of snakes, and have created a flash card game to teach children. These flashcards provide information on 43 Indian snake species using clear colour photos, with the scientific name and identification tips, in a game format. For enquiries, call 7667075875.

Shravan Krishnan, who has rescued more than 3,000 snakes in Chennai over the past five years, says that the awareness level of the population is gradually increasing. “We must understand that snakes should not be killed. India is one of the few countries in the world where anti-venom is harvested from the wild (with the help of the native Irula tribes), where experts go into the field and trap venomous snakes and extract venom. Whereas most countries breed the snakes in captivity for venom,” says Krishnan. He believes the potency of anti-venom taken from the natural habitat of the snake is higher. He also points out that snakes are farmers’ friends, as they hunt the rats that destroy the crops, thereby reducing the use of pesticides in agriculture.

In the hood

The Forest Department has created an effective network of snake rescuers in Chennai. When there is a call for help, volunteers can reach the location within 20 minutes. “There are 20-30 calls every day in Chennai city for snake rescue. During monsoon and extreme summer, it is higher,” says Jamal.

In the hood

Snakes commonly found in Chennai
  • Wolf snake (velli thol varayan): Commonly sighted at homes and gardens in the city, it has light brown skin with yellow or white bars all over, or black body with white broad bands, commonly mistaken for a Krait. It has two elongated front teeth like a wolf.
  • Blind snake (surul pambu): Frequently seen in flowerpots and manure heaps, this looks like an earthworm, but is reddish-black in colour. It is so tiny and light, that it enters the bathrooms through the pipes.
  • Checkered Keelback (thanni pambu): This snake has keeled scales, a brown colour body with a chessboard pattern, and two lines under the eye. It lives in water and is active during the night. It is defensive in nature, and tends to bite if disturbed. It’s usually spotted near wells and open areas near water bodies.
  • Olive Keelback (sambal nira thanni pambu): It has an olive green top and while belly, and is not aggressive. It’s gradually dwindling in population in Chennai area.
  • Striped Keelback (neerkaathan kutty): A land-dwelling snake, with two lines running through the side of the body and frequently sighted during the monsoon.
  • Green Vine snake (pachai pambu): A green snake, with a slender body and a pointed nose. It has a beautiful body pattern and is another arboreal snake that usually camouflages itself among the vegetation.
  • Rat snake (sara pambu): The most common in Chennai, it is usually mistaken for a cobra, and can grow upto 7 feet. It has a brown body with black markings between scales. A protruding jaw is typical of this snake. It is a non-venomous, fast and non-aggressive species.
  • Bronzeback Tree snake (komberi mookan): It is a long slender snake, with bronze colour on its back, and a whitish underbody. It is very fast and a great climber. It’s a tree-dwelling snake.
  • Banded Kukri (sangu virian): It usually remains buried in the earth and surfaces when land is excavated by earth movers. It has a brown colour body with black lines and is commonly mistaken for a Krait.
  • Common Sand Boa (mannulli pambu): It belongs to the Boa family. It’s a burrowing snake, active at night when it’s cooler, and has the tendency to bite in self-defence.
  • Spectacled Cobra (nalla pambu): One of the most easily identifiable snakes, when it spreads its hood, it exposes the beautiful spectacled pattern. At different stages of its shedding, it looks brown, greenish and dark brown.
  • Saw-scaled Viper (surutai pambu): An adult snake will be the size of a ball pen, and is easy to miss, as it coils itself and stays camouflaged in the mud. Because of its size, it usually bites the foot of humans, and has a movable tooth. When disturbed or threatened, it makes a distinctive rasping noise by rubbing its scales.
  • Russel’s Viper (kannadi virian): It usually camouflages itself amidst dry leaves and has a very toxic venom. It has the capacity to store a large quantity of venom due to its size. When threatened, it will coil up and hiss loudly. It has a unique brown colour body with a leaf pattern all over.
  • Common Krait (kattu virian): One of the most venomous snakes of India, it has a black to dark brown body paired with white stripes. It is very rare to sight, lives in all terrain, and is active by night.

“A substantial number of calls are from the ECR and OMR region. We periodically conduct training programmes for gardeners and security staff of huge apartment complexes and factories in Chennai and newly-developing localities. They are trained to identify snakes and to rescue them. They are also educated on the upkeep of the environment so that it does not attract snakes into the compound.” For example they are told not to pile raw material close to the wall at construction sites. Similarly, when pitching a tent, pitch it in the centre and avoid corners.

In the hood

Snakes are territorial. They may leave their habitat when construction activity takes place in an area, but they return to their terrain. “That is why we come across snakes in the car park or the play area of huge apartment complexes. These snakes won’t go beyond the stilt but wander in the open areas,” says Jamal. “Snakes never intend to harm humans. They are on the move only when they are hunting, or seeking a warmer place or mating,” says Jamal, adding “It is only when they enter into our living space, that we should seek the assistance of a snake rescuer.”

Once bitten...

If a snake bites you, do not panic, says Showkath Jamal, founder of Bay for Life Surf School and snake rescuer. If possible, take a photo of the snake (don’t attempt a selfie please) so your doctor can identify whether it is venomous. Go to Royapettah Government Hospital (they are equipped to handle snake bites) or any hospital that has a stock of anti-venom. Note the time of the bite and mark the spot with a pen. Victims are first be kept on observation to see if there is any effect of the venom. Usually, if bitten by a venomous snake, there will be pain in the bite site, thickening of the tongue, slurry speech, drooping eyelids, blurred vision and respiratory paralysis. Only after confirming some of the symptoms will the medical practitioner begin his treatment. If anti-venom is administered without this confirmation, it may be fatal.


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Printable version | Nov 28, 2021 6:13:46 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/know-all-about-the-snakes-of-chennai/article19961276.ece

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