CUDDALORE: For many, love for animals perhaps translates to buying a puppy or caring for a stray dog or two. But meet Chella, who spends the entire day rescuing snakes, monkeys, injured stray dogs, turtles, cats and other animals. The 34-year-old, whose original name is V Selvam, is a native of Manjakuppam and is perhaps Cuddalore’s most famous snake/animal rescuer. When Express sat with Chella to talk about his interest in rescuing animals, distress calls from near and far kept his phone constantly ringing. “Since childhood, I have loved animals. I started by rescuing injured animals and so far, I have caught 7,000 snakes and several other animals,” he beams, unmindful of the dangers in his line of work.
Chella started his career as a cinematographer. However, things changed when he took a brief break after marrying Yasmen, a Bhopal gas tragedy victim, in 2013. Chella soon found himself out of work and that is when his love for animals led him to Poonam Chand, then Cuddalore’s ‘go-to’ snake rescuer.
Chand took Chella in as his assistant, but never let him catch snakes. But Chand’s abrupt death in 2017 thrust him into his mentor’s role. Initial requests came from fire services, and before long, he was flooded with calls from all over the district. “As Chand’s assistant, I used to drive him around, but he never allowed me to catch snakes. However, I observed him and learnt the techniques.” Since 2017, Chella says he has caught more than 7,000 snakes, with the support of fire services and forest department.
He rescues snakes and several other animals within a 40-km radius of Cuddalore, as well as in Villupuram and Puducherry.
These days, Chella rescues 15 snakes a day and many other animals too. He even has his own YouTube channel ‘Help Today’. Also, Chella plans to release a book on snake varieties found in Cuddalore. Chella is paid anything from `30 to `200 each time he catches snakes, but says money has never been his motivation. “I do not demand money because people will hesitate to call me the next time and kill the snake or the animal. So I just take the money they give and request them to call me and not harm the animal,” says Chella. He further rues, “Although people frequently call me to catch a snake, there is still lack of respect for this job. That needs to change so that more people come forward to rescue animals. Also, more measures should be taken so that animals are properly rescued and released into forests.”