ERNAKULAM: While returning home at night after a long official trip last week, Sunil Jaleel — a senior civil police officer with the Ernakulam Central police station — received a phone call. A panic-stricken person had just found a snake in his house at Mamangalam. Sunil promised to reach the spot quickly. On the way, his phone rang again.
The officer said he was nearly there. But the caller continued, “Sir, we, the family members, have all tested Covid positive and are under home quarantine. I forgot to tell you earlier!” But Sunil, listed as a licensed snake handler by the forest department in Kochi, was duty-bound. He replied, “I’ll manage it.”
The officer told TNSE that he treated the entire house like a snake — with minimal physical contact. A family member pointed to the spot where they saw the reptile and opened the door without coming out. Sunil asked them to stay in their rooms and proceeded to catch the nocturnal visitor — a Common Bronzeback Tree Snake (Villoonni), a non-venomous snake. The family was relieved all the same.
Sunil’s voluntary service, available 24x7, is vital to the forest department’s plans for Kochi. While the department has an excellent team of snake-catchers based at Kodanadu, it is impractical to provide full-time service in the city. Hence, they rely on a trained professional like Sunil. Despite a hectic schedule, the 42-year-old attends to calls and travels around for snake rescue. He has rescued nearly 100 snakes including common kraits, vipers, pythons, rat snakes and tree snakes from residential areas, shopping malls and uninhabited areas.
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Sunil points out that when a snake is spotted, people start gathering and it becomes a law and order issue. “My service is aimed at avoiding such problems and spreading awareness on the significance of conserving snakes,” the officer says.
Sunil did not foray into the field accidentally. Rather, his enthusiasm for the ways of birds and reptiles from childhood made him a birdwatcher and a snake rescuer. He is also an avid wildlife photographer with a penchant for trekking. “The pandemic has halted such activities for now, and I couldn’t take the tour to Leh this time. Hopefully, things will change soon,” he says.
Sunil says people are yet to overcome the myth that a snake is a terrible creature, and that it should be killed at once. “Snakes play a major role in maintaining the food chain. Venomous or not, it won’t harm you unless you harm it,” he says.
He usually puts the snake in a bag and hands it over to the forest department. In the case of non-venomous ones, he releases them in uninhabited areas. Sunil received training from the forest department on safe and scientific handling of snakes. Given his tight schedules, Sunil feels the support from his family — comprising wife Sibila and sons Aazaad and Azhar — has gone a long way in fulfilling his obligations.