KOCHI: Many incidents of snakes finding their way into homes are being reported across Kerala. As Covid is slowing down local rescue operations, the forest dept and herpetologists are here for people's aid. The key is to not panic or try to catch the reptile on your own
On Monday at around 12.30 pm, snake rescuer Baban R received a call about a cobra curled up in the bathroom of a Covid patient's home at Pippinmoodu in Thiruvananthapuram. In the four-member family, three were positive and in home quarantine. The exasperated family sought help, wanting to remove the snake from the house without killing. A request was placed in the Snakepedia app. The blood sugar of one of the patients was also falling. Soon, a team comprising a doctor, technician, snake rescuer, and volunteer — all wearing PPE kits, rushed to the spot, rescuing the snake and the scared family.
A few days ago, on May 29, a five-metre-long King Cobra was found coiled under an almirah at a Covid patient's home in Nilambur. On Tuesday, two baby Russell's vipers were rescued from the home of a popular cine artist in Kadavanthra, Kochi. The Russell's viper is deadly and could have upto 60 babies. "If you spot one baby, there could be more around. Your immediate response should be to get in touch with a snake rescuer. Never attempt to rescue or remove the snake yourself," says Sandeep Das, herpetologist, trainer and member of the snake rescue guidelines committee.
The human-snake conflict has been a problem for the forest department for a while now. They have been managing it by responding quickly to snake spotting in houses. The department has trained over 900 snake rescuers and set up a centralised snake rescue and management system for the state. The guidelines for the rescue and release of reptiles from human-inhabited areas are quite strict and specific.
Two apps can come in handy if you spot a snake — the forest department's SARPA app and Snakepedia, an application by scholars, enthusiasts and doctors. The key is to have a snake rescuer's details ready, says Muhammed Anvar, deputy director, State Forest Training Institute, Arippa, and nodal officer of Snake Rescue and Training.
"All the snake sightings reported through the apps are addressed immediately. One needn't even call the rescuer personally. Just share the picture and the rescuer will come where you are using GPS. With an immediate response team, we have been able to reduce snake bites significantly. Never attempt to throw kerosene or other objects at a snake. Do not disturb it and observe it as you wait for the snake rescuer," says Anvar. Keeping the premises clean and ensuring there are no unkept snake hideouts can stop the reptiles from seeking refuge around your house.
Though they may look scary, snakes are an important part of the ecosystem. So, without harming them or yourself, you can get them out safely. "There are three reasons the snakes could enter your home. One, it may be chasing a prey like a rat or a lizard. Two, it might be taking refuge from a dog or other animals. Three, it might be looking for a place to hibernate when the rainwater floods its burrows. In all these cases, the best thing one can do is seek the help of the rescuer and observe the snake," says Sandeep.
Snakepedia offers a comprehensive database on snakes in Kerala and aims to identify them, dispelling myths, and share information about them. The app was launched in February and has over 35,000 active users. An expert nine-member panel comprising researchers, doctors and herpetologists helps identify a snake when its picture is shared on the app. More than 650 snake identification requests have been placed on it till now.
"The requests arrive even from abroad. We have been getting requests from Europe, America and Australia. Two weeks ago, we received 19 snake identification requests from the US," says Sandeep Das, The round-the-clock app and the expert panel will respond to the identification query in seconds. There are two types of requests, one can place, a snake identification request and a separate one if a bite has occurred. "We get a notification on all instances and if it is the snake bite, we receive an alarm as well," says Sandeep. Apart from snake identification, it carries podcasts, information on snakes of Kerala, mythbusters, location and data of health centres that have anti-venoms, and detailed information on lookalike snakes.
The SARPA app, is the mobile application launched by the Kerala Forest Department. One can place a request for rescue with a single click with the picture of the snake. An alert will be sent to all snake catchers in the area. If no one responds, the district coordinator will assign a rescuer. As many as 1,577 snakes have been rescued from human-inhabited areas in the state this year through the app.
If you spot a snake...
- Alert the forest department through the SARPA app or Snakepedia
- Share a picture of the snake in the app. This helps identify it. A snake rescuer nearby will get in touch with you
- Do not disturb the snake or attempt to catch it. Observe it and wait for the rescuer to arrive