Sunday, May 27, 2018

Meeting the Snakeman


About 16 years ago, while rummaging through the second-hand book market at Daryaganj, Delhi, I had picked up a biography simply out of curiosity - "Snakeman: The Story of a Naturalist". It was the fascinating story of Romulus Whitaker, the American-born Indian herpetologist who has done more for building awareness - and respect - for snakes and reptiles in India than anybody else.

It is truly the 'power of one'; of what a single committed, determined individual can achieve, despite all odds. Despite the cynicism and active discouragement of numerous people, he mobilized the Irula tribesmen into a cooperative that helps manufacture precious anti-venom serum which saves thousands of lives in India every year. It also provides valuable alternate employment to the Irulas who had been reduced to a life of poverty and destitution after a ban was imposed on their main livelihood - the export of snake-hides (Wildlife Protection Act 1972).

Last week, I had a chance to meet the great man himself, at an event organised by the Indian Express in New Delhi. 

There were so many things I did not know. I was surprised to learn (or be reminded, if that's a better word), that not all snakes lay eggs. Vipers give birth to live babies, and it is for this very reason that they get their name (vivus = 'alive' + pario = 'bring forth'); The deadliest snake in India is not the Cobra but the Russel's Viper; Biochemistry of snake-venom is still not clearly understood - the anti-venon-serum for vipers in Tamil Nadu is not quite effective for the larger vipers found in Rajasthan. I also did not know that the bite of a Krait is so painless that most people do not know that they have been bitten - until it is too late!

Here is a collection of three videos Rom Whitaker has made recently, to raise awareness on deadly snakes, snake-bites and rescue. Not many people seem to know about these educational videos, so here are the links:

* FOUR DEADLIEST SNAKES OF INDIA


* SNAKEBITE


* SNAKE RESCUE - THE EXPERT WAY


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LINKS:

* WIldlife Protection Act, 1972 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wildlife_Protection_Act,_1972
* Irula Snake-Venom Cooperative - http://tcdc2.undp.org/GSSDAcademy/SIE/Docs/Vol3/Snake_Venom.pdf
* Chennai Snake Park - http://www.chennaisnakepark.org/
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