KASARAGOD: The Uralungal Labour Contract Co-operative Society Ltd (ULCCS), which is building the four-lane highway in Kasaragod, suspended the construction work of a culvert for 54 days, allowing a mother python to hatch 24 eggs in Kasaragod.
The Department of Forest, the company, and a dedicated snake rescuer put in a concerted effort to bring the snakelets to the world. "All the 24 eggs hatched. We released 15 babies into the wild yesterday and nine will be released tonight," said Ameen Adkathbail, the snake rescuer, on Sunday.
On March 20, workers building a culvert as part of the widening of the NH 66, at Eriyal near CPCRI saw an Indian rock python curled up inside a burrow and called the Forest Department.
The burrow, possibly made by a porcupine, was four feet below the road level and would have never been exposed if the earthmover did not dig up the mud for the culvert.
The Forest Department called in Ameen, who runs an aluminum fabrication unit for a living, and has been rescuing snakes for the past 10 years. The department also asked ULCCS to consider suspending the work on the culvert. "Though it is a time-bound project it consented to it. Approaching the NHAI and getting the permission to stop the work would have been cumbersome," said divisional forest officer of Kasaragod P Biju.
To be sure, pythons are classified under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act and enjoy the same high-level legal protection as tigers in India.
When Ameen checked inside the burrow, he saw several eggs and the python had coiled herself around them. He got in touch with Maveesh Kumar, a herpetologist and head of Wildlife Research at Nepal's Mithila Wildlife Trust, on how to go about it. Kumar is a native of Kasaragod. "Maveesh advised me not to shift the eggs because eggs may not hatch without the mother python's warmth," said Ameen.
Python eggs need a controlled temperature between 27 degrees Celsius and 31 degrees Celsius to incubate. A temperature rise can cause the babies to be stillborn or born with deformities. The mother snake wraps around the eggs to keep the eggs at the right temperature.
Once ULCCS decided to work elsewhere till the eggs hatched, Ameen made it part of his schedule to check on the snake and the eggs once or twice every day.
The python eggs take around 60 to 65 days to hatch. On the 54th day since the construction workers found the python, the leathery eggs started cracking. "That means, we must have found the eggs a week after they were laid," said Ameen.
Once the eggs start to break, the mother python's presence is not essential. "So we decided to shift the eggs to my house," he said.
Moreover, when the python went inside the burrow to hatch the eggs, there were bushes and vegetation around to give cover to the snakelets when they came out. "But the roadwork has changed the landscape. It is a clear barren land now and the babies can become easy prey for eagles, crows, and other predators," he said.
So, Ameen crawled three feet inside the burrow and took the eggs. "The mother was resting in another hole inside the burrow. She did not attack me like a hen would do," he said.
At his house at Adkathbail in Kasaragod, all the 24 eggs hatched. "That's also rare," he said. The forest in Mulleria will be their new home.