The thought of a snake, so much as the remote sound of it gives most people the creeps. Reactions will range from eww, oh my god, creepy, slimy, dangerous, to kill it!
Ever since I was able to spell cobra in school, I have been an ardent snake lover, much to my mother’s chagrin. Even as a kid, I thought snakes were mysterious and alluring. And my mother, who dragged me to the anthills every Nag Panchami – often mistaken for snake burrows – to seek the Snake God’s blessings, only heightened my fascination for these beautiful creatures.
Having said that, I understand it is not easy to dispel the fear and myths surrounding these innocent creatures completely. Further, the portrayal of snakes as the representation of evil in several mythologies, fairytales, Hollywood and holy books has only added to the misunderstanding. Understanding the importance of the role that snakes play in balancing the ecosystem is the first step towards resolving the conflict between human and snakes.
Snakes in India do form a vital part of our ecosystem and their presence or absence from an area affects the ecosystem directly and in a big way. Snakes are indeed angels in disguise! You may picket in front of my house for uttering this statement. But take heart!
Snakes are our friendly neighbours for they are the greatest pest controllers. They feed on rodents and help us by keeping some of the dreadful diseases at bay. They also help farmers by protecting the crops from rodents. They feed on amphibians, insects, mammals and other reptiles, which keeps their population growth in check. And some predatory birds feed on snakes for their survival as well. Needless to say, the importance of birds in maintaining the ecological balance is paramount.
Some snakes always live closer to human habitats. As human population continues to rise, we are expanding our cities, towns and villages, resulting in our encroachment of the territories belonging to other wild species. When these animal species are accommodating and tolerating us in their space, we at the least should learn to coexist with them. We don’t go about killing people we think are harmful or dangerous to the society, so why snakes?
You will be happy to know that snakes are shy animals, who avoid contact with humans as a principle. The good news is approximately 80% of the snakes found in India are non-venomous, and the remaining 20% have no intensions of wasting their venom on humans even if they come in contact with them. Snake venom is modified saliva; it is also a digestive juice that is essential for their survival. As opposed to the popular belief, snakes are not vindictive and they strike in defence only when they feel threatened.
Recently, the Snake God did bless me with an opportunity to learn more about snakes from renowned herpetologists like Romulus Whitaker, Gerry Martin and Nirmal Kulkarni. I had an opportunity to be a part of rescue and release of the longest venomous snake in the world, King Cobra in Agumbe, Karnataka. It was the smoothest operation I have ever witnessed.
When you look into the eyes of a King Cobra you will realize why he deserves the respect he gets. He just gapped at me for a long time in a calm and composed manner and slithered away softly when he realized that the gapping activity didn’t yield any interesting results! Although King Cobras are the most feared snakes and have the reputation of being aggressive, they are reluctant to display any aggression unless provoked or harmed.