JAISALMER: Deadly snakes — a variety of them, scorpions, lizards and several types of deadly insects — big and small — is what their ‘workplace’ comprises of. If that is not enough, they also have porcupines, whose nasty barbed quills can prove deadly, bustling chinkaras, foxes, rabbits, nilgai and rarely, cheetahs besides a huge population of exotic birds.
The most dangerous of this lot stay deep in burrows during the daytime. But once the sun goes down and the hot sands of the day have cooled down and so has the air, they are out hunting for food and water — filling the otherwise peaceful desert with a variety of sounds and sights, some quite creepy.
This may sound a bit of an adventure to indulge in while on a desert safari. But this is the workplace of the soldiers of the Border Security Force (BSF)—guarding the international border with Pakistan—in the inhospitable
Thar desert in Rajasthan where an altogether different ‘version’ of “Man vs Wild’’ plays out throughout the day, only turning deadly by night!
Most of the times, these animals turn harsher than the enemy itself and give soldiers a tough time, even putting them in life threatening situations as they get bitten by deadly snakes, scorpions and insects, in the line of duty.
“Snakes and scorpions are in abundance here and that too a variety of them. Most of them are almost invisible on the desert as their light brownish colour blends perfectly with the desert sand and it is difficult to spot them until we get too close and then it is only a matter of chance and luck. Many of us here have got bitten by snakes and stung by scorpions. I was once stung by a scorpion which crawled up to my knee from the boots after which I was quickly given an injection to suck out the venom. With snakes, all of us posted here have had several close encounters,’’ recalls a soldier, posted at one of the outposts in Shahgarh Bulj along the Indo-Pak border in Jaisalmer.
Since such cases of snake bites and scorpion stings happen all the time, the small medical facilities set up within the BSF posts are always well equipped with anti-venom injections and other medical equipment as well as medicines required to provide immediate relief.
“Only in some cases, when the situation of jawans turn serious, they would be taken to hospitals for treatment,’’ says an official of the rank of Deputy Commandant.
In fact, there have been innumerable instances when tiny snakes, scorpions and other deadly insects of all sizes and shapes get inside the soldier’s boots. “It happens with the jawans and it has also happened with me at the border quite a few times. Recently, while on a regular check at the border, a snake got inside my boots and I realised it a while later but luckily it did not bite.
Similarly, Scorpions too get inside the boots and sting, so do insects. This goes on all the time but we have the most important duty to perform and nothing can come in the way. There are a lot of animals we come across including porcupines, fox, deers among other animals,’’ says DIG, BSF, Amit Lodha.
Though at nights, men also patrol on camels and sand scooters, depending on situations they also need to be on foot, which is when they face problem due to the animals.
A jawan posted at the Bawliyanwala post says that major wildlife activity starts once the sun goes down.
“We see a lot of wildlife activity once the floodlights are switched on in the evening. We see deers, fox, rabbits and other nocturnal animals who come out in search of food, once the desert sand cools down. A lot of exotic birds are also visible. It becomes our worst nightmare when snakes and scorpions even enter our bunkers and our barracks and gradually into our boots,’’ he says.
Jawans posted here come across rattle snakes regularly, but that is not the only variety you see here.
“They are in different shapes, sizes and colours. A major problem is with those rattle snakes whose colour blends with the desert sand and are difficult to spot and they strike when startled though we encounter them accidentally,’’ reveals a jawan who says that they carry good flash lights in the nights.
A BSF doctor says that cases of snake bites and scorpion stings are a very regular affair.
“While jawans getting bitten by deadly insects is an everyday affair, snake bites and scorpion stings also happen regularly, one such case every 15 to 20 days.
Though the soldiers wear boots, these creepy creatures get inside their boots and they won’t even know it until they get bitten. Several vital functions of human beings get affected once bitten by a snake or stung by a scorpion.’’
According to him, some people who get bitten by snakes or suspect that they have been bitten can develop striking symptoms even when no venom has been injected.
“This happens when people are in the grip of fear and anxiousness of getting bitten. There have also been cases when jawans suspect a snake bite or a scorpion sting but it would actually be an insect bite and they may take several days to recover.’’
One of the main reasons for the fauna to flourish on this India-Pakistan border is because the guns are silent.
“Had there been regular exchange of fire as is the case in J & K, such wildlife would not have existed here. Wild animals cannot live amid gunshots as it would scare them away,’’ a senior official says. He insists that while most other animals sneak in and out of India and Pakistan, a large number of chinkara’s remain on the Indian side.
“Deers are instinctively smart animals and often sense danger. Deer meat is famous in Pakistan,’’ smiles the official. Besides a bustling fauna, the 2.08 lakh square km Thar desert also has more than 550 species of vascular plants besides nutritious grass species all over.