A man who adores the King
CHENNAI: Our city has about 50 species of snakes and only four are venomous. Despite that, most snakes are killed at sight. In collaboration with Chennai Snake Park Trust, KCRE and Bay of Life Surf School & Surf Shop, National Geographic fame Gowri Shankar is conducting a storm snake workshop for adults and kids in September.
An authority on the behaviour of king cobras for over 20 years, Shankar has worked at some of the premier reptile conservation centres in India. He has been featured in several wildlife documentaries like the King and I, Secrets of the King Cobra, Asia’s Deadliest Snake, and Wildest India — showcased on BBC, National Geographic Channel and Discovery. We decided to slither into his life to catch more interesting tidbits of his work with snakes.
The first time he held a snake was at 13. “I was not scared at all. The scaly skin, their adaptability and incredible behaviour only fascinates me! No matter how long or venomous they are, they don’t frighten me,” says Shankar. “King cobra – well, I chose them as they are a very interesting life form. They are a product of million years of evolution and are one of the few wild animals that have adapted to live in human habitats. And of course their size, agility and intelligence are unmatched.”
One of his most memorable incidents about this breed was a rescue from a well in Agumbe. “Over there, I learnt that rescuing an 11-foot venomous snake from cozy, dark Malnad houses amid crowds was a daunting task. From being bombarded with questions from the crowd, planning my rescue strategy, being extremely alert, ensuring safety of the snake, people around and my own, my mind was reeling in a different realm. But, of course, people believe it’s easy to catch them,” he laughs.
He was bitten by a king cobra once but his love for them never dithered. Of course, he would never keep a snake as a pet. “Snakes aren’t an ideal pet material. On a hypothetical scenario, I don’t mind having a giant 100 feet anaconda as a pet that will protect my home against strangers. When she comes to me wagging her tail, I would name her ‘Sneka Sundari’. Get it?” Indeed.
On a serious note again, we got him to share his thoughts on popular misconceptions about snakes. “There are hundreds of myths about snakes in India, from a precious stone that they supposedly manufacture to Rat Snakes having venom in their tails. The one that tops my chart is that they will remember you and try and kill you if you hurt them and leave. Also, green vine snakes will strike at your eyes,” he sounds exasperated!
Rightly so, as Rat Snakes have no venom and green vine snakes have nothing to do with your eyes. “I just have to share my experiences and explain to them why snakes are not to be feared,” adds Shankar. “But it’s not right to wrap them around you. They aren’t Pashmina shawls. It’s a fad taking pictures with pythons and boas, but they are your average amateur tourists posing for their trophy pictures.”
The 2-day workshop for adults is on Sep 3 and 4. For kids, it’s on Sep 5.
For details call 9940488880