The thought of snakes, so much as the remote sound of it gives most people the creeps. Reactions will range from eww, oh my god, creepy, slimy, dangerous, to kill it!
Ever since I could spell cobra in school, I have been an ardent snake lover, much to my mother’s chagrin. Even as a kid, I thought snakes were mysterious and alluring. And my mother, who dragged me to the anthills every Nag Panchami – often mistaken for snake burrows, only heightened my fascination for these beautiful creatures.
Portrayal of snakes
Having said that, I understand it is not easy to dispel the fear and myths surrounding these innocent creatures completely. Further, the portrayal of snakes as the representation of evil in several mythologies, fairy tales, Hollywood and holy books has only added to the misunderstanding. Understanding the importance of the role that snakes play in balancing the ecosystem is the first step towards resolving the conflict between human and snakes.
Snakes in India form a vital part of our ecosystem and their presence or absence from an area affects the ecosystem directly and in a big way. They are indeed angels in disguise! You may picket in front of my house for uttering this statement. But take heart!
The greatest pest controllers
Snakes are our friendly neighbours, for they are the greatest pest controllers. They feed on rodents and help us by keeping some of the dreadful diseases at bay. Also, help farmers by protecting the crops from rodents. They feed on amphibians, insects, mammals and other reptiles, which keeps their population growth in check. And some predatory birds feed on snakes for their survival as well. Needless to say, the importance of birds in maintaining ecological balance is paramount.
Some snakes always live closer to human habitats. As the human population continues to rise, we are expanding our cities, towns and villages; resulting in our encroachment of the territories belonging to other wild species. When these animal species are accommodating and tolerating us in their space, we at the least should learn to coexist with them. We don’t go about killing people we think are harmful or dangerous to society, so why snakes?
You will be happy to know that snakes are shy animals, they avoid contact with humans as a principle. The good news is approximately 80% of the snakes found in India are non-venomous. The remaining 20% have no intentions of wasting their venom on humans even if they come in contact with them. Snake venom is modified saliva; it is also a digestive juice that is essential for their survival. As opposed to the popular belief, they are not vindictive and they strike in defence only when they feel threatened.
Recently, the Snake God did bless me. I got an opportunity to learn more about snakes from renowned herpetologists like Romulus Whitaker, Gerry Martin, Gowri Shankar and Nirmal Kulkarni. I had an opportunity to be a part of rescue and release of the longest venomous snake in the world, King Cobra in Agumbe, Karnataka. It was the smoothest operation I have ever experienced.
When you look into the eyes of a King Cobra you will realise why it deserves the respect it receives. It just gapped at me for a long time in a composed manner and slithered away without much ado when he realised that the gaping activity didn’t yield any interesting results! Although King Cobras are the most feared snakes and have the reputation of being aggressive, they are reluctant to display any aggression unless provoked or harmed.
Wrote this for Caleidoscope here.