Thursday, 1 June, 2023

Dealing With Deadly Snakes


LB Thapa

Snakes are an inseparable part of our environment. They play an important role in maintaining the ecological system. The shy creature does not like human presence near them, and, therefore, it prefers quiet places to spend most of its time.

Even though snakes invariably avoid human beings, most snakes die at the hands of human beings rather than other causes. Snakes come to human residential areas to find their favourite food- the rats. That is the time when snakes and humans come face to face, and, as usual, during such times, people kill them, without knowing whether they were poisonous or not.

In this write-up, I am going to introduce a young man from Pokhara whose selfless love for snakes has made him a local celebrity. He is Prabin Pandey who prefers to be addressed as RJ Prabin.
Currently, Prabin is pursuing his Bachelor’s in Law at Prithvi Narayan Campus, Pokhara. Owing to his extreme love for snakes, he has carved a name as a popular snake rescuer in Pokhara. Working under the Snake Conservation Society Nepal (SCS), Prabin is locally known as an experienced snake rescuer.

Childhood Fascination
“Ever since my childhood, I was fascinated with snakes. I wanted to know more about them. My inner drive to understand snakes brought me much closer to them. I began spending more time learning about snakes. I regularly read all available literature related to snakes and I watch popular YouTube videos about snake behaviour. My self-drive to understand snakes is an ongoing process. I do not think my passion for snakes will die down anytime soon. My thirst for knowing more about snakes is simply unquenchable,” declares Prabin.

Prabin is always ready to render his service of rescuing a snake. Sometimes he is called at night and sometimes he is called from different districts. He never disappoints them but provides his service without charging any fees.

“I catch snakes which have entered a house or a storeroom and later I release them in the nearby forest. For your kind information, there are 83 types of snakes found in Nepal. Among them only 19 are venomous. Moreover, in the entire Kaski district, there are 35 types of snakes. Of these, only five snakes are venomous,” added Prabin, a locally popular snake rescuer.
This is a fact that many people do not have enough knowledge about snakes. Therefore, they tend to kill every snake nearby them. It is due to the abysmal ignorance of people that many snakes are killed. Let’s not forget that every single snake killed will harm the ecological system of nature.

“Snakes are an important part of the ecological system of nature. Moreover, their presence in a country like Nepal becomes even more important because they eat rats and other harmful insects, which otherwise destroy seasonal crops. Thus, as a whole snakes help to protect farmers’ produce and at the same time, their venoms are used to make an antidote for saving the lives of many people who are bitten by snakes. In short, snakes are our friends, they are not our enemies,” added Pandey.

Speaking of antidotes for snakebites, they are mostly available in government hospitals. In Nepal, about 20,000 people are bitten annually by snakes. Among them, over 1000 people lose their lives every year.

As for the snakebite, Prabin said, “Snakes are active during March, April and June, July. During these months, more snakes come out of hibernation and roam around for food. Most of the cases of snakebites have been reported during these months. I become extremely busy during these months as I receive several calls every day”.
Rescuing snakes involves a lot of risk to life. A slight carelessness could cost a life. There are many cases when even snake rescuers were bitten by venomous snakes and lost their lives.

“Snakebites are quite a common incident in Nepal. Every year many people are bitten by snakes in Tarai and hilly regions. If someone is bitten by a snake, then the first thing to do is to remain calm and composed. This will stabilise blood pressure so that poison will not spread rapidly in the body. After that, the patient should be taken to a nearby government hospital at the earliest possible. One should keep in mind that mostly anti-venom drugs are only available in government hospitals,” advised Prabin.

Prabin has already rescued over 2000 snakes and still, he is catching them regularly. Among the many snakes he has rescued so far, six of them were king cobras. He has rescued these king cobras from different locations.

“The first king cobra I had rescued was from Palpa. Two of them were from Kathmandu and the remaining three king cobras I rescued from Pokhara. One day early in the morning, I was called from Palpa where a huge snake had been spotted in a storeroom of a house. To everyone’s surprise, the snake was not an ordinary one. It was a massive king cobra, about six feet long. I had to be extra cautious in dealing with such a venomous king cobra. There was no margin for an error. King Cobra’s single bite can even kill a fully-grown elephant,” said Pandey.
It is said that most snakes are not poisonous. However, many people kill snakes because they think those snakes are poisonous. If they know the snake is not venomous then definitely they will never kill it. Nevertheless, the question is how a nonprofessional can know whether a snake is poisonous or not. This is a difficulty.

“Yes, it is true that most of the snakes are completely harmless. However, many people kill snakes thinking they are poisonous. To some extent, we can distinguish a poisonous snake from a non-poisonous snake.
One obvious distinction is the head of a snake. The head of a poisonous snake will be slightly larger and triangular in size. Non-venomous snakes will have more rounded heads. Another difference is the pupil of a venomous snake. It will be elliptical while non-venomous its pupils will be rounded,” revealed Prabin.

Wrong Belief
Many people hold this wrong belief that if snake bites someone the victim needs an anti-venom drug urgently or the victim will succumb to death. Because of this wrong belief, the person who has been bitten by a venomous snake grows tense and further exacerbates his condition.

“I have personally seen several cases in the mountain regions where many snake victims survived even after 24 hours. In short, I would say that after having bitten by a venomous snake, the victim must not worry and remain calm and composed. The people around him/her must encourage the victim. In the meantime, they should take the victim to a nearby government hospital as soon as possible”.
Speaking with this scribe Prabin disclosed that almost all snake rescuers in Nepal follow their passions without any monetary benefits. They get no salary or any monetary benefit whatsoever but continue their passions. In the meantime, many senior and experienced snake rescuers have already quit and disappeared into oblivion.

“We rescue deadly snakes by putting our lives at risk but in return we get nothing. In case of being bitten by any venomous snake then I have to bear all the expenses myself. I will not get any financial help. Many times, I have visited other districts to rescue snakes at my expense. Literarily speaking, snake rescuers like me get nothing for our risky work.
This is the reason my parents are not happy with me and they constantly advise me not to put my life at risk for anything. However, I have continued rescuing snakes because it is my passion. How can I compromise against my passion?” asked Prabin with a gloomy face.

It is very sad to know that these snake rescuers risk their lives but in return, they get nothing. Even their lives have not been insured and in case they are bitten by any venomous snakes then they are left to fend for themselves. Do not forget that these snake rescuers are doing great work. They are saving not only the lives of many people but also the lives of snakes.
If these snake rescuers stop doing their work, definitely more people will die due to snakebites and more snakes will be killed at human hands.
Is it not necessary to provide financial support and life insurance for these snake rescuers? If this is done then certainly these snake rescuers can turn their passion into a profession.

(Thapa is a Pokhara based freelance writer and author.