What led you to learn about snakes?
I am self-taught. I read books and watched shows on YouTube, Discovery and Animal Planet. Six years ago, when I was working in a paddy field with my parents, a snake bit me and at that time none of us had any idea about snakes. We did not know if it was venomous or not. I thought I was going to die. I killed the snake instantly and took it with me to the hospital. The doctor said it was a non-poisonous snake, so I had nothing to worry about. That got me thinking that we know so little about snakes and are always so scared of them. Slowly, I started learning more about snakes and then it turned into a hobby, and now it is a social responsibility.
How do you balance your job as a Home Guard and your social commitment as a snake rescuer?
As a Home Guard I have always done my duty with passion and discipline. I think it is God’s gift that my job entails serving people and now I am happy to serve animals too. I must say I have been able to do the balancing act because of the support of District Superintendent of Police Apoorva Rao Garu, the police department, my family and our society members.
What do you do when you get a call to rescue a snake?
I immediately rush to the spot. On the way I inform the members of Sagar Snake Society, which I founded in 2017. Our Society comprises members who are trained in handling snakes. The person nearest to the spot gets there to rescue the snake.
[At Al Wathba Wetland Reserve, a showpiece of the UAE’s incredible wildlife]
After rescuing a snake, I examine it to check if it is injured. If there are any injuries, I take it to the veterinary hospital. After that, I take care of it at home until it recovers before I release it in a forest.
There must have been some tricky moments when nabbing snakes?
Once we went to a forest to release a rescued snake and I nearly stepped on a Saw Scaled Viper, which is the sixth most poisonous snake in the world. It was by sheer luck that I moved away at the last moment. Its bite could have been fatal.
What are the most venomous snakes you have caught so far?
I’ve rescued Indian Spectacled Cobras, Russell’s Vipers, Common Kraits and Saw Scaled Vipers.
What is the most number of snakes you’ve rescued in a single day?
One particular day I rescued 16 snakes that had somehow strayed into residential areas.
How many snakes have you rescued so far?
Over the past six years, I’ve helped 1,350 snakes.
What should one do in case of a snake bite?
In India, most people are superstitious and instead of rushing the victim to a doctor, they will resort to follow grandma’s tales, charms and religious rituals. The first thing one should do in case of a snake bite is rush the victim to a hospital as fast as one can. I myself have helped some 45 people who were victims of snake bite by taking them to the hospital.
You clearly don’t believe in eliminating these reptiles.
Oh no. Snakes are very helpful to farmers. They feed on insects and small animals that damage crops, hence maintaining a balance in the environment. Snakes make up a significant proportion of the middle-order predators that keep our natural ecosystems working. The feeding habits of snakes act as a natural form of pest control.
How have your videos helped in building awareness?
People became more aware about snakes after I started posting the videos on YouTube. So instead of trying to kill a snake as soon they spot one, they call a snake rescuer now. I get around 30-40 calls in a day.
How do your workshops help to get rid of people’s fear of snakes?
People are scared of snakes because they have little knowledge about them. Most people think all snakes are venomous and don’t know how to behave around them. I conduct events and awareness programmes in schools, colleges and in various institutions by educating people about snakes and their behaviour. I tell them about the importance of snakes for our ecosystem. I feel satisfied when I see more people joining the Sagar Snake Society and participating in the rescue and rehabilitation of snakes.
What precautions do you take while handling snakes?
While catching snakes, I keep my surroundings quiet and I ask people to stay away from the snake so that it will not get frightened. I can make it concentrate on me, so that it becomes easy for me to calm it down and catch it.
We do this work voluntarily and completely free of cost. Very often I spend my own money to treat snakes at hospitals.