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Co-exist, don’t kill: City NGO is involving people in serpent conservation
Through workshops held by herpetologist P Gowri Shankar, Bay of Life Foundation has been educating people about snakes, aiming at co-existence with the ophidians.
Our city is home to a total of 35 species of snakes, of which only four kinds are venomous, yet nearly each of the species gets killed at human hands mercilessly. “Among the snakes that are seen in Chennai, only spectacled cobra, common krait, saw-scaled viper and Russell’s viper are the venomous ones. But, because people don’t know how to identify them, they end up harming even the non-venomous snakes,” notes Showkath Jamal, the co-founder of Bay of Life Foundation, which has been working to conserve the ocean and the serpents in the city.
Showkath, who has been working to conserve snakes for more than a decade, has been hosting workshops through the Foundation, conducted by renowned herpetologist, P Gowri Shankar. “The workshop is called a Scientific Training on Reptile Management (STORM), which is for people who are already into snake rescues to learn ethical practices and for those who live around farms and apartments and often spot snakes. We help provide information on identifying the snakes — whether they’re venomous or non-venomous, in rescuing and relocating them, and in treating in case of a snake bite. Our idea is to create awareness on snakes and remove the perceptions that all snakes are dangerous,” elaborates Showkath, who was also mentored by Gowri in rescuing snakes.
“Over the years, we have noticed that people are hungry for information on snakes, as they no longer want to kill them. That is how the STORM workshops began in 2012, through which we have managed to train rescuers across the country. It is necessary that we understand a snake so as to co-exist with it peacefully. Due to the developmental activities in cities, snake population, unfortunately, has been dwindling. Informing and educating people about snakes is crucial,” asserts Gowri, who is also the founder-director of Kalinga Centre for Rainforest Ecology in Karnataka.
Through the workshop, participants get to learn basic information about serpents, while scientifically approaching them. “We see a lot of videos on YouTube, with people attempting to rescue snakes, but ending up being bitten by them, because they are unaware of snakes,” the herpetologist laments. A walk with the members of Irula tribe, who have been snake-catchers for many decades, also allows the participants to get a first-hand experience of dealing with snakes. The workshops also allow one to attend live snake rescue calls, and practically learn about snake relocation.
“People need to understand that snakes have been living in our city for many years, and have been displaced due to construction and its related machinery. Knowledge is required on whether a snake needs to be relocated or should be allowed to stay amid human habitation. The workshops have been attracting several farmers, in particular, who are keen to learn about snakes that they spot in their fields,” adds Showkath. The next edition of the workshop will be held on July 13 and 14 from 9 am at Jacob’s Farm on OMR.