THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The network of snake handlers trained by the Kerala Forest Department has rescued as many as 1,577 snakes to date this year from human-inhabited areas in the state. This includes more than 180 pythons, a genus not usually found dwelling near human settlements. Spectacled cobras (758) and rat snakes (243) figure among the highest number of snakes rescued.With the Forest department launching its novel programme for rescue and release of snakes from human-dominated areas and facilitating snake rescue through its mobile application SARPA, a centralised snake rescue and management system has been implemented in Kerala — the first such in the country.
In total, more than 900 snake rescuers including the forest staff come under the programme, of whom as many as 381 are presently using the application. Training is being imparted to interested forest staff as well as civilians who want to be snake rescuers. The guidelines for the same were published in August last year, as per which only handlers certified by the department can rescue snakes in the state.
“While only about 20 people must have lost their lives due to human-animal conflict in the last three years, as many as 336 have died in human-snake conflicts. Hence, addressing this issue was important,” said Muhammed Anvar, deputy director, State Forest Training Institute, Arippa, and nodal officer of Snake Rescue and Training in Kerala.
The app has also made some interesting findings. The python, which is believed to inhabit the forests, have been found in good numbers near human settlements in the state. “A good population of python has been observed now in human-dominated areas. In some pockets, we are observing breeding as well. Such data is of important for scientific pursuits. Python is a top-level predator. Last day, a snake rescuer told us he found the eggs of a python when he went for the rescue,” said Jose Louies, deputy director, Wildlife Trust of India.
“With this data, we get to make a map, analyse the behaviour of the species and get an insight into the snake distribution across Kerala,” he said, adding that the monsoon season is going to be crucial. The Forest department has equipped the snake rescuers with standard equipment and protective gear. Handlers who violate rules are faced with stringent action including suspension or cancellation of certification. “There was a snake rescuer who used to place the rescued snake in a plastic bottle. Despite warnings, he continued this practice. So, we cancelled his certificate. He can no longer rescue snakes,” said Anvar.
WHAT IS THE SARPA APP?
The SARPA app, the mobile application launched by the Kerala Forest Department, is part of a centralised snake rescue and management system implemented in the state. The app has been downloaded by more than 7,000 people and has around 5,000 active users. “All one needs to do is place a request for rescue by clicking a button and share 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,” said Muhammed Anvar, deputy director, State Forest Training Institute Anvar. The department has received up to 260 requests so far from users to identify the snakes they chanced upon in their neighbourhood.