KANNUR : Nidheesh Chalode placed three jars on the table at and said playfully, “This is for you.” It isn’t the most welcome gift. Three snakes — one cobra and two vipers — stare back from inside the jars. It is his catch of the day. “I’ll hand them over to the forest department,” he said.Nidheesh, 27, from Chalode, near Mattannur in Kannur district of Kerala, is a much sought-after man — by forest officers and the public — for his unmatched snake-catching skills. He has caught more than 20,000 snakes in 11 years and has been bitten only once, not seriously, by a cobra. “I get about four calls a day from across the district. There were instances when I caught up to 11 snakes in a day,” he said.
His first encounter with snakes was at 11 when he caught a cobra near his house. A small crowd was watching it anxiously; he went up and caught it by its tail. Though he got a talking-to from the elders, he feared nothing. He got serious about the job at 16.
His style changed after the Prasad Fans Association in Kannur, a group known for its animal rescue work, arranged classes for him with experts, including scientist Gowri Shankar. “Nidheesh is a natural at the job. The classes and his daily encounters have given him a deep knowledge of snakes,” said Manoj Madhavan, a head of the association and a noted environmentalist.
The most difficult thing about catching a snake is handling the crowds. “Some will pull the snake’s tail; everything is a joke for people. But the snake will be in stress and you can’t predict its reaction,” he said.
He works part-time with the forest department and is a member of their Rapid Response Team. He is paid only `4,000 per month, but he hopes it will convert into a permanent job.